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Passenger Safety: What They See is What You Get!

Posted on: March 23rd, 2014 by Pete Agur

World Aircraft Sales February 2014Safety starts with the CEO.  When it comes to passenger safety, that rule still applies.

Business Aviation has become the safest mode of air travel.  Flight departments operating professionally flown turbine-powered business aircraft are measurably safer than the major airlines.  And in the rare occasion when an untoward event does happen, 80% of the time there are no fatalities.  With that kind of success, complacency is a very real threat.  As a Board Member, it is your responsibility to assure the safety bar continues to move higher.  This is especially important considering how critical your key passengers are to the future of the company.

Yet key passengers often send an abundance of mixed messages about safety.  Some of the messages are verbal, but most are behavioral.  It is the old “Do as I say, not as I do” approach to leadership.  The result is lowered safety standards, because your aviation professionals may find it difficult to ignore the requests of important passengers.  That situation is an unacceptable and unnecessary risk to the business… and that is why there should be no gap between what you say and what you do when it comes to aviation safety.

 Here is a simple three step process for assuring that Passenger Safety is at Best Practices levels, or higher.


1.      Training – Cabin Safety Training & Briefings

Most passengers have never received comprehensive Cabin Safety training, regardless of how often they fly on the company aircraft.  Even if you have a Cabin Safety Attendant (i.e., flight attendant) on board, it is critical that your passengers be thoroughly knowledgeable on a variety of equipment, systems and procedures.  For instance, one CEO accidently started a fire in the back of the company jet.  Another major company lost two executives because they had rejected instruction on emergency exit procedures.  A few hours of training is a small price to pay to mitigate such risks.

 Implementation of training starts at the top.  The chairman of one Fortune 500 company has a policy that any newly authorized passenger has 60 days in which to go through a two-hour passenger safety program conducted by knowledgeable professionals.  After sixty days, executives must ride on the airlines until the cabin safety session is completed.  Instead of begrudging the effort, young executives describe the experience as a special achievement, which is true.  They are now prepared to help themselves and others in the case of an emergency.

For recurrent training on cabin safety, require your flight crews to conduct periodic (monthly?) in-person pre-departure briefings that also serve as refresher sessions for cabin safety systems and equipment.

2.      Cabin Safety Discipline

The airlines’ cabin discipline (seatbacks upright, tables, briefcases and computers stowed, etc.) is driven by FAA regulations.  Business Aviation has far fewer FAA directives.  Yet, the cabin discipline in your business aircraft needs to follow common sense practices and the collective risk tolerance of your company, crews and passengers.  You, as Board Members, set the standard with a “Statement of Safety Vision.”  For instance, I often hear corporate leaders declare their aviation services should be at least as safe as the major US airlines.  That guidance is sufficient for your aviation services staff to implement specific standards and practices to achieve that desired outcome.

Without regulatory guidance, many business aircraft passengers assume the airline rules need not apply.  But most of those rules are in place for excellent reasons.  For instance, having all gear, computers and briefcases securely stowed during the taxi, takeoff and arrival phases of flight is crucial.  The highest risk period, start to finish, is during taxi, takeoff and arrival.  Computers and briefcases can become deadly missiles in the back of an aircraft during an off-runway excursion that otherwise would be survivable.  Additionally, every year a number of flight attendants and passengers are seriously injured when they are tossed about by sudden encounters with severe turbulence.  A snug seatbelt at all times is an easy precaution against a bad bang on the head, or worse.

3.      Cabin Authority

Who enforces cabin standards and practices?  It is true that the FAA anoints the Captain with ultimate responsibility and authority.  But the FAA does not sign the flight crew’s check.  Even so, it is rare for a top executive to challenge the authority of a flight crew member.  However, it is far more common for a young executive to have an inappropriate sense of self-worth and authority that can lead to tense face-offs when it comes to enforcing cabin discipline.

 Do not put your flight crews in the awkward position of trying to correct passengers, unless you have fully empowered them to do so.  Most Business Aviation use policies include a statement of crew authority.  The best policies, however, take it to the next level by also making it clear that any challenge of a crew member’s instructions will be rewarded with airline tickets (i.e., loss of access to the company aircraft).

 In the end, you, The Board, must establish deliberate policies and practices, backed by your authority.  In doing so, you have stated clearly and unequivocally that, when it comes to passenger safety, there is no gap between your mouth and movement.  Leading by example always is effective, especially when riding on the company aircraft.

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