The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) announced last month that APP Jet Center at Hayward Executive Airport in Hayward, Calif., is the first FBO to complete the requirements for its Safety 1st Ground Audit Standard. Introduced more than a year ago, the standard is intended to promote best practices in the aircraft service industry, and the association believes the program will eventually become the bar by which all FBOs are judged.
While charter providers have had quality standards from companies such as Wyvern and Argus, this new safety audit represents the first for private aircraft ground handlers. “The driving force really was our members,” said Elizabeth Nicholson, NATA’s Safety 1st program manager, noting that FBOs were becoming frustrated by the amount of time their employees spent during audits from numerous charter companies. The FBOs began asking the association to help them find another solution. “They said you are the standard when it comes to Safety 1st training, so it should come from you to put together this standard,” Nicholson told AIN.
Designed with input from NATA’s safety and security committee, which consists of charter operators, maintenance providers, insurance companies and FBOs themselves both large and small, the audit examines seven operating areas: management system, safety management system (SMS) and quality assurance, training, standard operating procedures, security, occupational health and safety and environmental, to form a complete picture of the workings of the FBO. While NATA manages the program, it does not actually conduct the audit, relying instead on trained third-party auditors. Most successful auditor candidates come from the insurance industry, where they perform similar safety audits on customers seeking coverage.
The cost of the program materials is $695, in addition to the price of the individual examiner, and applicants are encouraged to study the materials thoroughly before committing to an audit. “We do not expect someone to complete or even go through an audit for six to nine months,” said Nicholson. “One of the documents an FBO would receive is a checklist and we expect people to use that and go through it and make sure that they are up to date, and that they really think that they could pass it.” For the purpose of the audit, locations are not allowed to share materials. FBO chains will require separate materials and audits for each location they wish to certify because of the different operating factors they may face. Those multiple-location operators may also choose to send one of their own employees through the auditor workshop (if they meet the requirements), which will allow them to conduct internal audits. Applicants for the audit process may otherwise select their auditor from a list of registered examiners.
Once the audit is performed (the process normally takes two or three days), the auditor compiles a report and submits it to NATA and the service provider, detailing any areas found deficient. The FBO then has 120 days to demonstrate the implementation of any required changes. Once the changes are implemented, the provider will be listed on the NATA registry for two years, before it is required to repeat the process.
“You don’t think of an FBO as having an SMS in place, and for passing this ground safety audit, the SMS is one requirement,” said Christopher Hambleton, APP’s vice president of operations, who spent months working on his company’s certification process. “That was the hardest part of it because we had to learn it, understand it, get a grasp of what an SMS even looks like, write one and put it into play.”
APP found that much of the work it had to accomplish involved documenting the FBO’s operating standards into manuals, an effort the company believes will ease the way for the certification of its facility at Washington, D.C.-area Manassas Regional Airport.
“You would expect this kind of thing to be achieved by a place with 30 or 40 bases first, but we have now been held to a higher standard than anybody else in the industry, and we succeeded at it,” said APP CEO Thom Harrow, who noted that several other FBO operators abandoned their attempts at certification when they understood the time and effort required. “Everything else aside, I think customers focus number one on safety and the way you handle their aircraft. Everybody can claim that they do that well, but when you have an outside entity, particularly a national organization like NATA, saying that you are the first to meet our standards, frankly that’s a good customer-relations item for us and we plan on making it a bragging point.”