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Setting the Safety Standard: The Responsibility is Yours

Posted on: September 29th, 2012 by Pete Agur

Setting the Safety Standard: The Responsibility is Yours

by Peter v. Agur, Jr.

Founder, The VanAllen Group, Inc.


Earlier this year a major company’s board meeting started with a special welcome to one its members.  A few months earlier he had been a survivor of an aircraft accident that included multiple fatalities. The CEO commented he was certainly glad that his aviation department was safe.  The survivor responded, “Is it?”


That exchange was amazingly frank… and on target.  One of the roles of the Board is to assure the future viability of the business.  Yet, it has been rare for a Board to involve itself in the operational performance of its company’s business aviation services.  They should.


It is easily argued that the most valuable assets of any enterprise are its leaders.  They are its future.  Maximizing those leaders’ impact via enhanced time-place mobility, extending their useful life through reduced stress associated with rigorous travel schedules and assuring their travel safety and security are all benefits gained from the use of business aircraft services.  On a macro-level, business aviation has the same safety record as major flag carriers.  On a micro-level, better leadership from the top is needed.  What management says (“We want best practices or better when it comes to safety.”) is undermined when those same leaders create risk inducing exceptions to best practices.  The following are a few of the most frequent examples:


The Induced Risk

The C-suite is often occupied by type-A’s who are not used to being told “no”.  Some are also prolific stress donors. It is their nature.  It is what has made them and their business units successful.  On the other hand, flight crews are service providers who are highly motivated to perform.  The mix of the two styles can be a deadly combination.  There have been several notable fatal accidents whose contributing origins included passenger-induced stress on the crew to proceed into threatening conditions.


The Response

The Board must be very clear about how executives are to behave around crewmembers.  These constraints will prevent induced pressure to push the limits in crucial areas like crew fatigue management, runway length limitations, or adverse weather.  Establish a policy that holds the crew harmless for saying “No”.  Add teeth to it by declaring any passenger who pressures a crew gets one warning.  A second offense downgrades that passenger onto the airlines.


The Induced Risk

Passengers get tired of hearing the same old safety briefing flight after flight.  Some passengers tell the crew to discontinued the briefings.  That happened with a major New York-based company.  Their aircraft was involved in an accident that resulted in the aircraft becoming submerged in cold, murky water.  The crew barely got out.  One of the two passengers survived when rescuers quickly pulled him from the wreckage.  He later told investigators he and his traveling companion, in the confusion of the accident, forgot how to execute an emergency escape from the cabin.


The Responses:

The Board should require pre-departure safety briefings for at least the first leg of each day for each passenger.


Passengers must be able to help themselves and their traveling companions in the event of an emergency.  Therefore, cabin safety training should be conducted at least annually for all frequent passengers.


The Risk

Many passengers do not like the loss of privacy or the perception of excessive service the results from having a flight attendant onboard a large cabin aircraft.  Yet, the back of these aircraft is isolated from the flight deck crew.  Additionally, the cockpit crew shouldn’t support the preparation and serving of meals.  That leaves passengers unattended, which creates very real risks.  As an example, the chairman of one Fortune 100 company started a fire in the galley of his intercontinental jet while trying to prepare a snack for himself.  And there are numerous examples of passengers having sudden medical problems while in flight.


The Response:

The Board should require a Cabin Safety Attendant (CSA) as a crewmember on any large cabin aircraft.  Every passenger carrying leg (no matter how short or how few passengers) should include a fully trained and qualified CSA on any large cabin aircraft.


Why should the Board be bothered with this level of detail?  Because the vast majority of companies violate, on a routine basis, one or more of these best safety practices.  If the leadership of the company is permitting these risks to occur, it is up to the Board to make a difference.  The responsibility is yours.




Peter v. Agur Jr. is managing director and founder of The VanAllen Group, a business aviation consultancy with expertise in safety, aircraft acquisitions, and leader selection and development.  A member of the Flight Safety Foundation’s Corporate Advisory Committee and the NBAA’s Corporate Aviation Managers Committee (emeritus), he has an MBA, an airline transport pilot certificate and is an NBAA Certified Aviation Manager.

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