Training Sessions Underscore Decision-making Process for Schedulers and Dispatchers

 - February 5, 2014, 12:25 AM

Along with the ample opportunities to network and meet with current and potential vendors, attendees at last month’s NBAA Schedulers and Dispatchers Conference had a slate of educational sessions led by industry experts to choose from, in this year’s case 29 in all, and among the offerings were several safety and emergency-themed seminars.

The world can be a dangerous place, especially when traveling to a foreign country or even a different city. (See related article on page 40.) While it’s the flight crew’s responsibility to get passengers safely to their destination and back, passengers must take responsibility for what happens to them while they are there. That was the topic explored in “Personal Safety for the Travelling Professional,” presented by FrontierMedex vice president Charles LeBlanc. In his presentation LeBlanc detailed the three basic concepts of travel safety: preparedness, prevention and premeditation, offering safety trips for each category. He advised travelers to keep in their room a “go bag”–containing all their important items such as passport and other identification, medications, pen, paper, flashlight, batteries and cellphone chargers–that can be grabbed quickly in case they have to evacuate their room (possibly in the dark) in an emergency. He cautioned international travelers never to let their passports out of their sight and to bring copies. Hotels or other agencies that demand to hold the passport should be given the photocopy instead.

Under the category of prevention, LeBlanc cautioned against the common practice of using one’s business card as a luggage tag as it provides too much information that a criminal could exploit. He advised using a covered tag with a first initial and last name on the outside and leaving a business card inside the luggage in case there is any question about how to contact the owner. He also advised travelers to adopt a policy of awareness, not just outside the hotel but within it as well. When checking into a room, LeBlanc suggested propping the door to the hallway open with your luggage as you quickly survey the room, making sure no one is hiding in it, and packing a rubber doorstop as added protection against room intrusions. Citing the bloody terror assault against some Western hotels in Mumbai several years ago, he advised those who find themselves in such an unthinkable situation to close the curtains, hunker down in their rooms and not open the door until sure that rescuers have arrived and taken control of the situation.

Catering Safety

Getting the passengers and crew to their destination healthy and happy was the focus of Catering Safety 101, presented by first-time S&D attendee Jean Dible, principal of GA Food Safety Professionals, and Paul Schweitzer, senior vice president of global sales and marketing with Air Culinaire Worldwide. Foodborne illness in general aviation is increasing, with the number of occurrences rising five percent between 2011 and 2013, according to statistics from MedAire. Passenger gastrointestinal illness inquiries currently account for 77 percent of GA illness calls to the global medical information provider. With passengers on board aircraft for several hours or more, knowing where the food came from and how it was treated from the time it was prepared until it is placed in front of the passenger is crucial. Dible noted several factors that could cause a foodborne illness from catered food, including purchase from an unknown source, failure to cook food correctly, holding food at incorrect temperatures, using contaminated food equipment and practicing poor personal hygiene.

For any catered food, even from a quality source, the clock on its safety starts ticking the minute it is prepared, and if not transported and stored properly it could prove harmful. Among the many items she described as potentially dangerous were somewhat innocuous foods such as green salads, cooked rice, baked potatoes, cut tomatoes, cut sweet melons, even water and ice. Between 41 and 135 degrees, bacteria flourishes, quickly rendering contaminated foods possibly hazardous.

While any food theoretically could be dangerous if handled improperly, some are certainly riskier than others. While immensely popular, sushi is probably the most dangerous among the foods that should be avoided on board business aircraft. Seafood in general carries additional hazards such as potential toxins, and the fact that sushi is served raw makes it a choice passengers might regret later in the flight. Since most catering providers do not specialize in sushi preparation, they must outsource it, adding another level of transport and more accountability in how it was prepared and stored.

Schweitzer gave the audience a checklist containing questions that a savvy caterer should ask a scheduler for every flight, demonstrating the hundreds of details that can go awry with a catering order.

Other sessions dealt with operational updates from various parts of the world, including Africa, Mexico and Canada. With the eyes of the sporting world on Brazil this June for the 2014 World Cup, Andre Camargo from Universal Weather & Aviation explained the procedures the South American country requires for private aircraft heading there and planning to operate during the tournament. Of the 600,000 international spectators expected to arrive, GA aircraft are projected to carry more than 10 percent. The 25 most important airport gateways to the 12 host cities will be operating on a PPR and slot landing system, with slots for the second round of the tournament assigned starting on June 24. In what was virtually a test run, last year Brazil hosted the Confederation Cup tournament and learned several ATC lessons, which it hopes to apply this summer. Flavia Ribas from Colt International then gave an overview on the often changing operational requirements in the remaining countries of the continent.

Fuel-Price Lessons and FBO Future

On the last day of the show, one of the seminars served to educate attendees on exactly what goes into getting a gallon of fuel into their aircraft and how the price can fluctuate from location to location depending on numerous variables such as the fuel distribution system. Each load of aviation fuel carries its quality control certification from the moment it leaves the refinery until it is pumped into the aircraft. Once received at the end destination’s fuel farm, samples from the load are compared to ensure they exactly match the specification on the certificate. Walter Chartrand of Aviation Training Academy detailed the costs involved in regularly sampling and testing the fuels as well as the outlay for the fuel farm itself, the refuelers and the training of line service staff.

Melodi Gerber, president of Arizona-based Strat Fuel, emphasized the importance of continually auditing your company’s fuel invoices and setting up a system to ensure you are receiving the rates you are supposed to, adding that operators seem rarely to check rates after the fact. Rather than rely solely on contract fuel pricing, she suggested contacting the FBOs directly to achieve the best price in many cases, and for flight departments operating three or more aircraft made the case that such resulting savings over the course of a year could likely cover the salary of a dedicated fuel manager within the department.

In one of the last sessions of the show, Ron Jackson and John Enticknap, principals of the FBO industry consultancy Aviation Business Strategies Group, laid out their belief that the business model for U.S. service providers is due for a radical change as FBO operators become squeezed between shrinking fuel volumes attributable to more efficient aircraft, skyrocketing insurance and employee benefit costs and the growing demands of airport landlords striving to increase revenues.

In an age of wildly fluctuating wholesale fuel prices, FBOs are concentrating on better customer service yet they are finding that they can no longer afford to give away the complimentary services customers have grown accustomed to. What seems like “small potatoes” such as free ice, coffee, newspapers or even crew cars add up in a market where fuel margins are often razor thin. Enticknap described a “two-tier system” where some customers might still choose to pay a premium for the full service, while others would be billed on an “a la carte” plan with each item charged separately. The system would be most useful in cases where an aircraft doesn’t take on fuel or otherwise normally contribute to the bottom line of the facility. Enticknap advised, “Don’t give it away,” noting that such a system has been keeping FBOs in operation in Europe and the Middle East for years, at locations where such handling fees are the only source of revenue as in many cases fuel is handled either by the airport or directly by the fuel provider.