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The Directors’ role in Business Aviation Safety

Directors are obliged to serve the company’s owners by creating and overseeing policies that protect the firm’s assets and facilitate growth in shareholder value. Jack Olcott notes that a company’s most valuable asset is its personnel, and that policies relating to use of the company aircraft by company personnel and their customers deserve top priority.

Jack Olcott   |   6th March 2011
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Jack Olcott Jack Olcott

Possibly the world’s most recognized advocate, if not expert on the value of Business Aviation,...
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Traditionally, members of the board are selected for their knowledge of the corporation’s core business endeavors. With the exception of firms engaged in on-demand air transportation, rarely is a person given, or elected to a Director’s slot solely because of his or her knowledge of Business Aviation. It is understandable, therefore, that policies focused on the safe operation of the company aircraft be delegated to aviation professionals with relevant credentials.

While delegating specific tasks is good management and should be encouraged, responsibility must never be delegated. Safety oversight of a company’s Business Aviation activities is the Board’s responsibility. With the assistance of experts from the company’s flight department, Directors must establish appropriate safety systems and monitor implementation of documented safety protocols.

Furthermore, Directors must give their unconditional endorsement and seal of approval for the company’s safety policies affecting Business Aviation. Safety systems are ineffective if they are merely words in a manual. They must be living documents that are followed just as one would adhere to a long-established routine or culture. More than a way of life (literally as well as figuratively), safety culture is what those involved with the flight department do habitually, even when nobody’s looking. Preparing the specific steps in a safety policy should be delegated to the Director of Flight Operations or the designated safety officer for the flight department. Setting the tone for following the company’s safety protocol, however, is a Board responsibility.

The Board must insist on strict adherence to established safety procedures, with no exceptions. The company’s safety policy and procedures should be witnessed by the Board, and formally endorsed in writing by the Board Chairman and the company Chief Executive Officer.

Specifically, the Board and the top officers of the enterprise must be clear and unequivocal in insisting that at no time is it allowable for any passenger, regardless of rank or position within the company, to pressure a flight crew to deviate from the company’s safety procedures.

For example, passengers must never insist on a crew taking off or landing under conditions prohibited by the company’s safety policy, regardless of the trip’s importance. Subtle or implied pressure is also unacceptable.

Numerous accident reports reference situations where the importance of completing a trip as originally planned led to tragedy. A case in point is the recently released analysis by Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee of the landing accident that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others - many of them top government officials - in 2010.

The President’s aircraft piloted by Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk was attempting to land in dense fog at the airport serving Smolenski, a Russian city where leaders were gathering at the site of a particularly dark experience between Soviet and Polish troops during World War II, hoping to further heal deep and still festering wounds. Earlier in his career, while serving as a co-pilot onPresident Kaczynski’s aircraft, Protasiuk witnessed the President’s wrath when the pilot-in-command refused to land at fog-shrouded Tbilisit Airport, forcing President Kaczynski to drive all day from the diversionary airfield to the intended destination.

The president was quoted as furiously saying, “If someone decides to become a pilot, he cannot be fearful.” The safety-conscious captain never again flew the Presidential aircraft.

While there is no indication that President Kaczynski specifically ordered Captain Protasiuk to attempt the landing at Smolenski, the commander of Poland’s air force left the passenger area, entered the cockpit and situated himself directly behind the pilot a few minutes before the tragic approach commenced. According to the accident analysis of cockpit voice recordings between Protasiuk and his crew, the captain appeared to be highly motivated to land.

The memory of President Kaczynski’s anger associated with the Tbilisit incident was still clearly in Captain Protasiuk’s mind. The Russian investigators concluded that while the captain “…recognized the complicated and dangerous nature of the situation…there was a motive to complete the tasks and wishes of the Main passenger.”

The purpose of the above account is to illustrate how Board Members must insist, in written policy, that under no circumstance may passengers, regardless of title, rank or privilege, urge crews to deviate from established safety protocols.

Doing so risks the security of a firm’s most valuable asset—its own personnel—and it violates the basic covenant between Directors and shareholders.


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