Flight departments are sharpening their focus on improving safety throughout their operations, embracing programs such as corporate flight operations quality assurance (C-FOQA) and International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO). But one area remains overlooked: FBOs.
“FBOs perceive little value in investing in additional safety and risk-reduction measures because it’s not going to change the customers’ behavior,” said Mike France, NATA’s managing director for safety and training. “Operators are not choosing FBOs for their safety performance.”
France bases his view, shared at the recent Air Charter Safety Symposium, on conversations with FBO personnel as part of NATA’s training development efforts. While prospective customers grill FBOs about fuel prices and amenities, he noted that topics related to safety and training programs never come up. “If FBOs are not being asked about safety,” France said, “they are going to focus on what they are being asked about.”
It is not as if business aviation is oblivious to the risks and costs of ground operations. If anything, the opposite is true. NBAA’s Safety Committee listed ground collisions as one of its top issues in 2015 and last year, noting that they are “on the rise” and result in “significant costs.” Insurer AirSure calculates the average cost of a business-aviation ground mishap at about $130,000.
FBOs might not feel pressured to boost safety efforts, but some are doing so anyway. The number of locations with International Standard for Business Aircraft Handlers (IS-BAH) credentials reached 58 by the end of last year, climbing from just 13 at the start of the year. Another seven signed on in the first two months of this year. A set of best practices with a safety management system at its core, IS-BAH is built on the same principles as the popular IS-BAO program for business aircraft operators.
“We are at a tipping point with IS-BAH,” said B.J. Goodheart, AirSure’s director of aviation safety and claims management. “I had maybe four phone calls last year to do an IS-BAH audit. I had four the first week of this year.”
IS-BAH’s expansion is encouraging, France and Goodheart acknowledged, but they emphasized the onus is on operators to advocate for FBO safety. Among their suggestions: develop a set of questions for flight crews, dispatchers or flight planners to ask FBOs. While the questions can vary, two must-cover topics are training programs and measuring safety performance.
“It’s a really telling question,” Goodheart said of the performance query. “‘We haven’t broken an airplane yet,’ is always good to hear, but safety is about much more than preventing major mishaps.”