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Your Business Aviation Standards: How Safe is Safe Enough?

Posted on: March 23rd, 2014 by Pete Agur

World Aircraft Sales March 2014It is critical that Board Members get beyond assumptions when it comes to the safety standards of the company’s Business Aviation services.

How safe is safe enough?  The majority of passengers, including Board members,  assume their aviation services are safe.  They know and trust the company’s  pilots, for they have not scared passengers.  Everything must be fine.  That assessment, however, is simply an assumption; it is not the basis for governance.  Do you oversee the rest of your business solely through the lens of assumptions?  No. 

Assumptions must be replaced by standards, and performance must be measured with respect to those standards.

Performance Priorities

When it comes to standards, the first step is to set priorities.  Years ago I had a client tell me he wanted five things from Business Aviation, as he ticked them off on his fingers:

  1. Safety
  2. Safety
  3. Safety
  4. Service – Meet the needs and expectations of himself and other key passengers, and
  5. Efficiency – He would treasure every nickel saved making the first four priorities happen.

I love the way he said it.  He was clear and concise about the priority of his expectations.

But what did he mean by “safe”?  Even more important, is your definition of “safe” the same one used by your aviation professionals?  Probably not.

How Safe is “Safe”:  How High is “Up”?

Most aviation professionals deal well with the “black and white” of the world.  As a result, it is easy for them to declare the quality of their performance using any of a number of statements such as: 

  • “We haven’t had an accident or an incident, so of course we are safe.”  Unfortunately, this post hoc reasoning does not predict or assure future results.
  • “We know everyone else in the area, and I guarantee  we are the best around.”  Beware.  Being the best of a low performing lot is not reassuring.
  • “We have all the seals of approval: IS-BAO, SMS, ARG/US, Wyvern, etc.”  These achievements acknowledge the results of audits.  An audit is an event.  You want your people to perform to a high standard day in and day out.  Badges do not assure that.  Consistent application of processes, systems and behaviors do.

 So, if all the slogans and Good Housekeeping Seals of Approval don’t really assure you that you are “safe”, what will?  Start by abandoning your historic notions of Safety.

The FAA uses regulations to enhance safety.  But that is not the answer.  If it was, air taxi operations would be the safest of all genres of aviation because they are the most highly regulated.  The fact is the accident-rate for air taxi operations is 4-5 times that of the much less regulated industrial aid segment of Business Aviation, where business aircraft are flown by salaried crews for the private, non-commercial transport of the owner or lessee.  It is clear that you cannot regulate “safe” outcomes.  A different approach is required, starting with a re-definition of Safety.

 Safety versus Risk Management

The new definition of Safety is about Risk Management, which has at least four distinct components:

  1. The identification of Risk,
  2. The assessment of the magnitude of that Risk (i.e, catastrophic versus negligible harm),
  3. The calculation of the probability of that Risk occurring (I.e., certainty versus improbable) and
  4. The mitigation of unacceptable Risks to a degree that is acceptable.

Risk Management is particularly powerful because it lends itself to measurement and reporting.  This is in direct contrast to the more nebulous historic declarations about Safety.

How high should your Risk Management bar be set?  You probably expect your core business to perform to Best Practices standards, or higher.   Most C-suite executives have similar expectations for their Business Aviation services.  But, there is no single set of comprehensive Business Aviation Best Risk Management Practices.  After all, your company’s culture and business are unique.  As a result, if they are to make the greatest impact possible, your Business Aviation Risk Management policies and practices must also be unique.

 Risk Management is an extraordinarily flexible concept.  It can be applied to the outcome of all three arenas of Business Aviation services:

  1. Safety,
  2. Service, and
  3. Efficiency.

For this discussion we are focusing on “Safety”.

 A Quick Barometer

The substantial majority of Business Aviation departments are knowledgeable about the concepts of Risk Management.  However, very few Business Aviation departments have fully and effectively integrated Risk Management into their operations.  For instance, 70% of accidents are human factors sourced.  Yet, the typical Risk Management system focuses more than 70% of its content on non-human factors elements.  What is the focus of your Risk Management program?

Another example is that very few departments have included Scheduling/Dispatch and Ground/Maintenance into their Risk Management efforts.  Did you know that the greatest exposure your aircraft has is during ground operations?  A systematic application of Ground Operations Risk Management would greatly reduce your exposure to the exceptional costs of repairing an aircraft damaged when parked or being moved by ground personnel.  Does your Risk Management program comprehensively include Scheduling /Dispatch and Maintenance/Ground Operations?

Raise the “Safety” Bar

If you want to be certain your Business Aviation services really are “safe enough”, consider the following:

  1. Collaborate with your company’s Business Aviation  leaders to clearly identify the risks that are unacceptable and how they will be managed using effective resources, policies, practices, etc..
  2. Confirm that your Business Aviation department formally adopts Risk Management as soon as practical.
  3. Assure that Risk Management is integrated into all elements of the operation
    1. Scheduling and Dispatch,
    2. Ground and Maintenance, and
    3. Flight.

When all these elements are in place, you will be well on your way to being safe enough.

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