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Plane Talk

Business Needs versus Biz Jet Safety?

Posted on: June 24th, 2015 by Pete Agur

June AvBuyerMaintaining balance in your flight operations.

f risks are taken to deliver busy execs on time, how safe is your business jet trip? Find out how to ensure that the company’s service needs don’t impact Safety.

The highest-risk flight Mike flew during his year in combat was in the name of “service”. His helicopter was diverted from a resupply mission to scoop up a critically wounded soldier who would bleed out if he did not get to a major medical facility fast.

After the pickup, Mike and his crew dashed for the hospital at the coastal air base. As they approached the destination, they encountered monsoon conditions. The rain was so heavy Mike could no longer fly visually… and Mike was not instrument-rated.

He only had a modest amount of instrument flight training. But, a life hung in the balance. Mike asked the crew chief how the passenger was doing. Not well. Mike asked his co-pilot and two crewmembers if they were willing to push on or wanted to turn back. The vote was unanimous, without hesitation, to get this guy to the doctor ASAP.

Mike called Air Force approach control to declare a medical emergency and to request a Ground Control Approach (i.e., the controller uses radar equipment to direct the pilot’s heading and altitude all the way down to the runway). The rain was so heavy the windshield wipers did no good. The last call the controller made was, “You are about to touch down, eight feet left of centerline.” With its metal skids, the helicopter made a rough landing, but as predicted the aircraft came to a stop just left of runway center.

Mike could not see to air taxi the helicopter to the ramp, where the ambulance waited. He called the tower to say he was shutting down on the runway and to request the ambulance and tow equipment be sent to him.

Within minutes the ambulance and a small parade of other vehicles arrived. The wounded soldier was hustled off (he made it). The next person to stick his head into the aircraft was the air field commander, an Air Force full Colonel. He was madder than a wet hen, literally. Mike and his co-pilot were ordered into the senior officer’s jeep. The crew was told to stay with the aircraft.

Heroes or Rogues?

For the next 30 minutes the two Army pilots stood braced at attention in front of the Colonel’s desk while being verbally assaulted in a manner they hadn’t experienced since Officers’ Candidate School. The base commander was dressing them down for exposing their crew, the aircraft and his air field to inappropriate risks.

Consider the irony of the situation. Mike and his crew chose to take exceptional actions in an effort to save a life. They had succeeded by landing “safely” near the only available major hospital. As the colonel gained momentum, however, he mentioned legal charges until being interrupted suddenly by a knock on his door. Barely breaking rhythm, he shouted, “Come”. In walked Mike’s brigade commander, also a bird Colonel; his operations people had been monitoring Air Traffic Control and alerted him when the emergency was declared. Anticipating challenges, the Army commander had hustled to the air base in the midst of monsoon conditions.

Mike and his co-pilot remained at attention for the next five minutes while the air field commander energetically briefed the Army Colonel on the recklessness of his crew’s behavior. At the end of the tirade Mike’s Colonel looked the senior Air Force officer in the eyes and said, “You want to court marshall them. I’m thinking of putting them up for Distinguished Flying Crosses. With your indulgence, we’ll call it a draw and take our leave. Gentlemen, come with me.” The two pilots smartly saluted the Air Force commander, turned and followed their Colonel.

A Teaching Moment

The above scenario is typical of combat conditions. Now shift the scene to Business Aviation. Here, the scenario is not a wounded soldier.

It is key passengers on a critical trip. At dispute are violations of duty time, weather minimums, runway conditions or any number of other operational standards. How do you want your crews to respond? How will they behave?

At a glance the following three steps appear to be ridiculously basic. They are. Yet, they are the foundation for assuring significant risks are never taken in an effort to “serve”. The results of following these steps are dramatic reductions in your potential for a safety failure.

Step One: Policy – Establish a Safety Policy stating operational risk management will be maintained to industry Best Practices or higher. This safety bar matches what executives routinely declare as their intent. It is a high standard that will continually rise over time.

Step Two: Authority – The Safety Policy must have the power of the Boardroom. All situations are affected and included. Aviation Department Manager as well as pilot-in-command—in fact anyone tasked with managing risks as specified in the Safety Policy—has the power of the Boardroom, or its equivalent, behind them. No exceptions.

Step Three: Responsibility – “Safety is everybody’s responsibility”… a cliché with expansive meaning. It starts at the top… the Boardroom and passengers. It includes leaders, managers, and operational staff. Everyone walks the talk; always in all ways. No gaps. No variances. It requires consequences. For, if a variance has no consequences, it sets an unwelcome new standard… a reduced standard of safety.

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