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It would be nice if we were all-wise and all-knowing- muses Gil Wolin. No more anxiety about raising children- choosing a mate- hiring #2- selecting winning stocks… we could virtually eliminate all risk from life. But we’re not- and so we rely on experts to help us make those critical decisions- to assess the situations and to minimize risk.

As anyone who has children – or who has been in a long-term relationship – knows- the risk management process is one of continual education and re-education. “Best practices” in all things is an evolving process- one that requires regular review and constant integration of new and better data.

So it is with a professional flight operation: whether in communications- technology- or technique- improvements in flight operations and aircraft maintenance occur at a speed of change today that requires continual monitoring- as well as regular check-ups.

No professional pilot goes more than a year without a complete physical- conducted by a third party with specific expertise – in this case- medical expertise specific to aviation. Aircraft owners and aviation managers should apply the same stringent review regularly to their flight operation.

Independent third party professional audits are an integral part of establishing an aviation Safety Management System (SMS)- a type of Six Sigma/ISO 9000 program for aircraft operators. A 2006 amendment to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 6 requires that its 190 member-countries implement SMS standards.

That means that all aircraft operators must establish and maintain a Safety Management System that is “appropriate to the size and complexity of the operation.” The ICAO defines an appropriate SMS as one that has:

• a safety hazard and risk assessment process-
• a process to develop and implement remedial action necessary to maintain an acceptable level of safety- and
• a process to continually monitor and assess the above safety management activities.

The idea was not just to help operators develop an effective SMS- but also to implement a universally recognized single standard of safety. Today more than 30% of business jet deliveries are large cabin- transoceanic-capable aircraft- and this single universal standard enables each operator to build one SMS and comply with one set of audits- rather than having to develop multiple manuals and comply with multiple audits.

In 2002- IBAC- the International Business Aviation Council- introduced its International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) to help business jet operators meet the new SMS requirements- as well as to establish a more universal standard of best practices- thereby enabling operators to achieve a high level of professionalism as well as safety. Once implemented- IS-BAO requires a flight operation compliance audit once every two years.

No- not if you’re a commercial airline or charter operator flying internationally – or even a private jet operator flying to Bermuda or France- as both countries have mandated that operators accessing their airports have a Safety Management System. Bermuda and France- however- accept IS-BAO registration as sufficient to meet SMS requirements. The European Union countries are expected to make the same requirement in 2013.

While the FAA filed for a difference (an extension) of ICAO deadlines- its federal funding is contingent upon implementing a final SMS ruling by July 30- 2012. And US-registered operators must comply with the applicable regulations of the foreign country in which they fly- according to FAR Part 91.703.

Many ICAO signatories do not have the aviation infrastructure to develop their own Annex 6 SMS standards. Consequently- according to Joe Moeggenberg of ARGUS International- you can expect more and more countries to simply implement IS-BAO to comply with Annex 6. ARGUS performed more than 200 audits in 2010- only 60% of which were performed outside the US.

The intent of any SMS is to enable flight departments to operate to a higher level of safety. That requires more than simply new manuals- procedures and checklists. It requires that use of those tools become a way of life for all aviation personnel. And that is one reason- according to Brent Moldowan of Wyvern International- achieving full IS-BAO registration is a three-step process: (1) establishing policies and procedures- (2) implementing those policies and procedures- and (3) enculturation [the process by which a person learns the requirements of a culture- and acquires values and behaviors that are appropriate or necessary in that culture].

And while there is a cost to developing and maintaining an SMS- there is also a cost-benefit beyond accident/incident avoidance. For example- while there is no defined insurance premium discount for having an SMS- major insurance brokers indicate that an SMS places those operators in the “preferred risk” category- helping them to quality for preferred rates.

The auditors will measure your operation against those industry best practices too- practices developed over millions of turbine flight hours of operation. The IS-BAO biannual audit can then determine your flight operation’s compliance with regulations as well as its performance against evolving best practices.

An audit conducted to the IS-BAO standard is a snapshot of your operational safety and compliance at that moment. But like the aircraft themselves- aviation safety is not static – it is a moving target. Our ever-improving record is the result of implementing new ongoing programs like SMS- to make business jet operations safer – and more cost effective.

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