“Safety and professionalism are the cornerstones of business aviation, and this conference is one of the best ways we at the National Business Aviation Association know of disseminating that message,” said Ed Bolen, president of NBAA and the lead speaker at the 18th NBAA Flight Attendants and Flight Technicians conference, held from June 20 to 22 in Washington, D.C. With that in mind, the conference offered the 235 attendees and 32 exhibitors a close look at the myriad responsibilities of the corporate flight attendant, as well as how to break into a difficult industry.
When asked why the conference is for both flight attendants and flight technicians (FTs), incoming NBAA flight attendant committee chair Dodie Thomas, supervisor of cabin services and safety for Altria, said, “Flight technicians and maintenance personnel are often pressed into service as flight attendants. When a trip is to a remote corner of the world there is almost always a flight technician on board,” she explained.
But cabin crew are different. “Many companies don’t want to spend the money on a cabin crewmember. If they are only going to have an FT on board, we hope they will double-train the FT as a flight attendant.” Certified flight attendants are not required on corporate aircraft operating under Part 91 or Part 135.
Though there were more flight attendants than flight technicians at the conference, that, too, is changing. “We would love to have flight technicians on the committee that runs this conference every year,” said Thomas.
Breaking into the Business
A cornerstone of the event is the Lead Flight Attendant Roundtable, where staff from corporate flight departments that include Altria, Aramco, McDonald’s, ConocoPhillips, Lockheed-Martin, Yum! Brands, Air Force One and more team with staff from training facilities such as FlightSafety International and Air Facts Group, as well as OEMs, to talk in an open forum about issues of importance to cabin crew and business aviation.
“One key topic was how to get new people into the business,” explained Thomas. “The principals do not generally like to see a trainee on the aircraft, and there are currently no internship programs for corporate cabin crew,” she said. At larger corporate flight departments they want three to five years’ experience in the corporate environment, according to Thomas. “That’s hard to get,” she said.
Freelance corporate flight attendants attending the conference agreed. Many are airline flight attendants who come to the conference hoping to network and find their first corporate position, but having commercial experience does not necessarily get you that corporate cabin crew slot. Several attendees proposed cabin crew “shadow” experiences, and they intend to bring the idea back to their companies.
The Push for Certification
Also discussed was the development of a certification program for corporate flight attendants. “We don’t have an integrated certification of our own,” said Thomas. “The goal is to clearly delineate the difference between an unskilled cabin server and a trained flight attendant.”
The flight attendant committee (FAC) has asked NBAA for years for a unified certification program, but recently it has begun to look outward for assistance. “We’d like to go to the National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies [NCATT], as the avionics technicians have done, and develop criteria and testing. It would raise our professionalism across the industry, I believe,” said Thomas, suggesting that the FAC should reach out to the largest flight departments and gain their endorsement for the certification. “We can’t do it without them,” she said.
Leadership and Stress Management
Speakers ranged from two former commanders of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds to NTSB accident investigators, security experts, food safety and cultural sensitivity experts, to post-traumatic stress experts. The first day rounded out with a moving explanation of the emotional aftermath and recovery from aviation accidents given by a survivor, Mimi Tompkins, first officer on the 1988 Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 that lost 18 feet of upper fuselage structure and a cabin crewmember in flight.
Tompkins’ successful struggle to overcome PTSD led her to push for critical incident response programs (CIRP) at the airlines through ALPA. She was one of several pilots who spearheaded the program, which today is an integral part of airline employee assistance programs. Tompkins, now a first officer for Hawaiian Airlines nearing retirement age, is working on her certifications as a mental health professional specializing in PTSD. She and Kevin Armstrong of Aircare Access Assistance (a part of the Aircare Solutions Group) together spoke about the need for a CIRP for business aviation. Aircare Solutions Group announced last March that it is providing a free CIRP program to corporate aviation flight departments.
Sensible Catering and Cabin Cultural Awareness
Speakers on day two focused on food safety, cultural awareness and cabin service. “This year we built on our success at the EBACE FAC meeting,” said Paula Kraft, principal for Atlanta-based caterer Tastefully Yours. “We’ve drawn several European inflight catering specialists here, including Alison Price On Air, Hubert-Marsden, Manny’s and Deluxe, and the networking is fantastic,” she continued. Kraft is working to build a worldwide collaboration among in-flight caterers, where they can share information about clients that will help them to improve both service and safety, she said.
Activities included minute-clinics on food, safety and security and cultural differences in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), plus a seminar on food and wine pairing at altitude, where the lack of oxygen and hydration changes the way food is perceived and how passengers handle alcohol.
The conference wrap-up speakers were online security specialist Joseph Sokoly of MAD Security and The Hacker Academy, who debunked myths and suggested simple antidotes to the most prevalent digital security issues faced by corporations with road warriors on staff. Memory specialist Ron White brought the message home to the group that people are not memory deficient; they are attention deficient. Want to be successful? White’s solution is simple: teach your brain to focus on one task at a time.
This year 32 recipients received $60,000 in scholarships for initial, recurrent and specialized training for flight attendants and flight technicians provided by industry sponsors, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Dassault Falcon, FlightSafety International, Aircare Solutions Group, MedAire, Aramco, Aviation Catering Consultants and many others.