Bombardier’s decision to proceed with an in-person Safety Standdown on November 2 and 3 in Wichita was helped in large part by NBAA’s move to host BACE in October, the Montreal-based airframer’s executive v-p of services and support and corporate strategy, Jean-Christophe Gallagher, told AIN. “Clearly with NBAA actually doing their show in Las Vegas, it kind of set the tone for the industry coming back together [post-pandemic],” Gallagher said.
“So we saw this as an opportunity to piggyback on NBAA’s move and come in with an in-person Safety Standown," he added. "We knew that we would have fewer numbers in person—we’ve had years here [in Wichita] where we had more than 500 people—but yeah, it was time to come back together. I think we were ready for that.”
This year’s event—the 25th edition of the standdown—attracted 200 in-person attendees and another 1,100 participants from 20 countries who attended the presentations via webcast, an option Bombardier began offering in 2010. That 200 number was largely on purpose, Gallagher added, an effort by Bombardier to maintain some sort of social distancing given that the effects of the pandemic have yet to be fully muted.
“It was important for Bombardier to continue to show leadership on this topic and bring the whole industry together,” Gallagher said. “As you can see from the attendees, it’s not only our competitors coming, it’s our customers, it’s people from the military, it’s people from the airlines, it’s from all over the industry. And we really want to make this a non-partisan event.”
“Everybody’s welcome,” he added. “Everybody coming together to talk about the most important topic in all of aviation: safety.”
Standdown’s roots lay with Learjet, where demonstration pilots there began holding an internal human-factors safety workshop that in 1996 blossomed into a free event for all corporate flight departments and customers, regardless of brand allegiance and ownership. The number of attendees is generally only limited to the capacity of the site where it’s held. Since then, more than 10,000 people from the aviation industry have attended standdown seminars either in-person or online from countries including Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, Switzerland, and the U.S.
Tony Kern, CEO of Convergent Performance and a consistent standdown presenter, was in on the ground-floor planning of the event when Bombardier opened it to all flight departments and customers. “It took tremendous courage at that point in time for Bombardier to do this because no one was doing it and everybody said if you have a safety standdown, competitors will use it against you,” Kern told AIN. “But Bombardier had the insight to see—and quite honestly, at that point in time I don’t believe there was any marketing discussion about it—there was a need in business aviation that needed to be met.”
Kern—whose “Armored Knight” presentation at this year’s event stressed the importance of linking the aviation professional to an organization’s safety management system and vice versa— thinks that over the years standdown has had an impact on far more than the 10,000 who have attended it in person or online. “I bet it’s 50,000 that have actually seen and heard about [Safety Standdown],” he said.
Kern points to a few years ago where he was attending an aviation conference in Europe. Another man attending the conference and whose name tag indicated he was from Zimbabwe got on the hotel elevator with Kern. “He’s looking at me and I’m looking at him and we recognize each other but we don’t know from where,” Kern explained. “And…just as we’re about to get off, he says, ‘Falduckfish,’"—a term used by Kern in his standdown presentations describing pilots who strive to be more like a falcon and less like a catfish.
"And when we get off the elevator he goes around and he says, ‘Do you remember that thing we watched?' And they watched [standdown] on the live stream from Africa. So you have no idea how many people are out there picking things up,” Kern said.
Besides Kern, general session presentations and workshops were led by 20 other instructors. Also presenting were NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen and FAA Central Region regional administrator Joe Miniace.
Bombardier used the standdown to also announce a change in the event’s leadership, which for the past 15 years has been helmed by Andy Nureddin, Global 7500 fleet leader and former v-p of customer support. Nureddin plans to retire at the end of 2022.
Gallagher introduced Chris Milligan, v-p of preowned aircraft services and flight operations, as the new leader of the standdown. Bombardier also announced that Nick Verdea, director of aviation and corporate travel for The Williams Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the winner of the 2021 Bombardier Safety Standdown Award, which is presented to an aviation professional who has demonstrated exemplary dedication to improving aviation safety through the Safety Standdown principles of "learn, apply, share."
As for the future of the standdown, Gallagher acknowledged that putting on the free event requires “significant financial resources. But we’ve always protected this as part of our portfolio of things that we do.” Organizing and hosting the standdown, as well as actively taking an industry leadership role in the area of sustainability and reducing the industry’s carbon emissions, is another key part of that portfolio, he stressed.
“Those are two fundamental initiatives for us that we believe in, that we believe we can bring our expertise to contribute to advancing those topics,” Gallagher said. “That’s why we keep doing it. As an industry, we’re all successful when everybody’s coming together and sharing.”