It’s one thing to talk about having a safety culture within the Flight Department, but it’s another to successfully execute one. Andre Fodor, Aviation Director, Johnsonville Sausage highlights the steps he implemented...
En route home after completing my annual recurrent training for one of our large cabin aircraft, I reflect on the twenty hours of ground-school and six hours of simulator time. Engines failed, systems faulted and instrument approaches were mostly followed by a missed approach procedure, all giving me the opportunity to test my skills, review emergency procedures and re-learn aircraft systems.
I return home humbled, reminded of just how much there is for me still to learn.
In the early days of building our flight department, I was pre-occupied with managing and setting up the new operation. I was well aware that my proficiency was suffering and I had to remind myself to change roles whenever I put on the uniform to fly a trip. I was, after all, still a crew member and I needed to stay focused in my duty as a pilot.
I made a crucial decision to elect another pilot within the flight department as my Pilot in Command until my management duties eased-up. It proved to be a good decision that kept our safety standards high.
The Path to Better Safety
Since we operate under CFR 91 (General Aviation) there is no mandatory training requirement beyond annual recurrent training. Being a small flight department, we identified the need to maintain high proficiency and a mindset that leads to constant learning awareness. How did we work towards this?
Phase 1: We began with baby steps, first enlisting a medical professional to train our team in CPR and First Aid before developing a program tailored for our operations. Our CPR and Defibrillator hands-on training takes place inside our aircraft where we simulate real life flight emergencies. We train, for example, to handle a medical event while crossing the Atlantic.
Today, we conduct emergency procedure drills every three months or prior to any extended over-water flight, and we have noticed that cohesion within the team has strengthened.
We became better at making, executing and sticking to a plan.
We discussed international corporate safety, became more compartmentalized in our communications about upcoming flights and discussed real-life events that could happen to us during a trip. That was phase one.
Phase 2: Having worked as a manager for one of the largest charter operations in the world, I’ve seen first-hand how structured training helped pilots stay proficient, and I wanted the same for my team.
I chose to not pursue IS-BAO certification at this juncture. That decision was taken based on my previous experience in which there was a race to get the IS-BAO certificate hanging on the wall, but little drive to implement its safety standards for the sake of operational efficiencies. I wanted tangible and practical results that would lead to strong Standard Operating Procedures and safety practices; if the aggregate leads us to an IS-BAO certificate, then I will embrace it.
Instead, I approached a company who specialized in flight training content to develop a tailored annual program for my flight department.
Today, everyone in the team is assigned a block of on-line classes to be completed over the year. We emphasize that there is no rush to complete the assigned coursework, and we meter the material so it is released over the year. The intention is to keep everyone’s mindset focused on learning, rather than to generate additional workload.
Our pilots receive training in corporate security, flight operations and international procedures, and our flight attendant learns about food safety and emergency procedures. Our Director of Maintenance learns about record-keeping and accounting. Everyone learns about Hazardous Materials and work safety, and we emphasize the importance of strong interpersonal relationships.
A Timely Reminder
Here’s a little confession: Last year I didn’t complete all my flight training assignments. As I discussed the coursework for the upcoming year with the chief instructor of our training provider, he asked me if I needed a reduced workload. The question reminded me that daily I need to make time for proficiency; that there is learning to be undertaken. It kept me in check, reminding me of my responsibility to maintain and improve skills every day.
I am so proud of my team. Recently, I dispatched them on a difficult mission without me. During the trip in which they transported the principal and his wife, an unexpected circumstance required a radical change in schedule and logistics. The team performed magnificently without me, and the lead pilot messaged, “we’ve got this, all handled to our standards”.
I knew immediately what he meant - no follow-up questions from me were required.
Our mission statement is clear; we aim high and deliver unprecedented quality. To rubber-stamp the professionalism of the team, I subsequently received a handwritten note from our chairman. It read: “Your team did great work tonight without you – a sign of great leadership”.
He saw value in how much we invest in training and empowering people within our flight department. It all came together in this opportunity for them to shine. My team has wings, and can fly solo!