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The Board and Aviation Safety: Set a Verifiable Standard

Posted on: September 29th, 2012 by Pete Agur

The Board and Aviation Safety: Set a Verifiable Standard

By Peter v. Agur, Jr.

Founder, The VanAllen Group, Inc.



Board members have a unique responsibility to oversee and protect the enterprise’s future.  Aviation services carry the future of the enterprise.  Therefore, the Board should be responsible for providing direct guidance on aviation safety.  How can you do this without technical expertise or diving in too deeply?  By setting the standard and granting the appropriate authority.


What is the appropriate safety standard for your Business Aviation services?  There is an energetic debate about that issue going on right now.  It is a healthy dialogue contrasting the past with the future.


Before the turn of this century aviation “safety” focused on preventing accidents.  In other words, it was reactive to the hard lessons previously learned by others.  Today, safety is forward looking as it seeks to manage real and potential risks.  This is done by identifying, measuring and mitigating risks in a proactive approach to avoid damage or injury.  The most widely used term for this approach is Safety Management System (SMS).  SMS is becoming the QMS (Quality Management System) for aviation.


Evidence of an established SMS is already a regulatory requirement for flying turbine aircraft within the EU.  Additionally, SMS will become mandatory for commercial operations in the US within a few years.  But, it is not yet a requirement for business aviation in the US.  However, effective application of SMS within Business Aviation is a safety Best Practice.

And that brings us to the topic of Best Practices for Business Aviation.  Business Aviation is a small industry.  There are about 6,000 corporate aviation departments in the US that use turbine powered aircraft.  When you consider the diversity of their owners, businesses, operating environments and cultures you can appreciate why there is no one-size-fits-all encompassing set of Best Practices.

Without a single standard it has been easy for executives and aviation managers to self-anoint their operations as being Best Practices or even World Class.  Yet a number of them routinely perform to lesser standards.  I presented my first paper to the Flight Safety Foundation on the subject in the ‘90s and have been making presentations and writing articles about it ever since.  Best Practices are situational.  Let me be clear; safety Best Practices are about much more than merely preventing safety failures.  Safety Best Practices assure the intended outcomes with a minimum probability of significant variances.

Some companies and their aviation departments seek to confirm their standards and practices by benchmarking.  But benchmarking has little to do with Best Practices.  Benchmarking only confirms what others are doing.

Is there an “Easy Button” for Best Practices?  A number of vendors and industry organizations are trying to establish themselves as the source Business Aviation Best Practices.  Several charter vendor auditing companies are marketing their proprietary protocol-based audits as Best Practices.  However, their standards are based on air taxi regulations with some enhancements. This is not an effective foundation for Business Aviation Best Practices.

On the other hand, the European version of the FAA requires proof of an applied Safety Management System (SMS) for any large turbine aircraft operated within their airspace, private or commercial.  This approach is more practical and a step up but not quite hitting the mark because they only require documentation of the existence of an SMS, not its full implementation.

That brings us to the International Business Aviation Counsel (IBAC) and its development of the International Standards – Business Aviation Operations (IS-BAO).  IS-BAO has been established as a voluntary standard that was introduced in 2001.  IS-BAO is “ISO-light” for Business Aviation.  It was created by IBAC in recognition of the need for a documented and systematic approach to business aviation operations.  It is taking off and continues to mature.

There are three “stages” of IS-BAO achievement which are confirmed by certified auditors using comprehensive protocols.  In lay terms,

  • Stage 1 requires that appropriate systems and processes (including SMS) are in development.  Stage 1 satisfies the EU requirement for proof of SMS use.  There are currently about 500 aviation organizations qualified as registered with IBAC, mostly in North America. That is less than 10% of all North American aviation departments.
  • Stage 2 requires that systems and processes have been developed and implemented under direct supervision.  About 100 aviation organizations have achieved this status.  That is less than 1% of all North American aviation departments.
  • Stage 3 requires full organizational commitment to IS-BAO performance standards and practices.  Only about 50 organizations have achieved this highest level of IS-BAO registration.  That is less than 0.1% of all North American aviation departments.

IS-BAO Stage 3 registration assures your aviation services are “doing things right”.  It is the ultimate industry recognition for performance.  It needs only one more ingredient to achieve true Best Practices stature.  And that ingredient is within the purview of Board: Making sure they are “doing the right things.” The Board must approve the standards (embodied within policies and practices) used by your company’s aviation services.

Blend (IS-BAO Stage 3 plus policy and practices oversight by the Board and you have verifiable Business Aviation Best Practices.




Peter v. Agur Jr. is managing director and founder of The VanAllen Group, a management consulting firm to business aviation 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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