'Fig' Newton Warns Charter Operators Not To Duck Safety Issues

 - March 21, 2023, 8:22 PM
Retired U.S. Air Force General Lloyd "Fig" Newton told the Air Charter Safety Foundation’s Safety Symposium that the industry has no room for complacency. (Photo: Kerry Lynch/AIN)

Pointing to the recent spate of near collisions between aircraft and other mishaps that have captured headlines this year, Gen (Ret.) Lloyd “Fig” Newton told attendees at the Air Charter Safety Foundation’s Safety Symposium on Tuesday that operators need to focus on safety issues.

“There are probably some folks in our community that would say, 'That’s not us. That’s those other guys. They’re the one that’s having a problem out there,'” Newton told the audience of primarily charter providers, corporate operators, and safety specialists. But the former commander of the U.S. Air Force's Air Education and Training Command cautioned, “That’s not the way it works in our world and the world of aviation. Because I can assure you, if there’s a problem anywhere in aviation, there’s a problem everywhere in aviation. We can’t duck this. You’re just kidding yourself if you try that.”

Newton, who gave a presentation on “Developing a Sustainable Aviation Culture,” added that the Safety Symposium is “very timely” in light of recent events. He pointed to the FAA’s safety summit held last week and praised the difficult questions that the agency's acting administrator, Billy Nolen, and former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt, who is an executive director at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, levied at the industry about what is happening and what the data is telling them. “I think some of this will come out as we go forward,” he said.

Newton maintained that the U.S. has the safest aviation system worldwide, but he added that "we’ve got to always be looking at what’s next, what we should be doing to be prepared for the next event."

According to the former fighter pilot and member of the Air Force's Thunderbirds air demonstration team, what the industry does is inherently dangerous, “but what we...professionals here do, we make it safe.”

Industry professionals must make sure that aviation is safe not only in their opinion but the public’s as well, he said. “It doesn’t make any difference really what we think. If the public and your customers think you are not safe, then we have got a major problem.”

As for creating a sustainable aviation safety culture, Newton cited common themes that come with it: leadership, trust, commitment, and standards.

Leadership must take a strong role and not treat safety as a bolt-on measure, he said. Trust is critical for both leaders and employees because a strong safety environment grows out of the right culture. There needs to be a commitment to that culture that is borne out of professionalism, Newton said. As for standards, he concluded that these need to be higher—such as zero accidents.