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In the world of aircraft management and charter- third party audits are a way of life – proof of compliance with regulations as well as a way to ensure superior standards of safety and service.

Gil Wolin   |   1st March 2011
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Gil Wolin Gil Wolin

Gil Wolin draws upon almost 40 years’ aviation management experience as an industry consultant....
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Information and improvement - or lightning-bolt? It’s up to you...

In the world of aircraft management and charter- third party audits are a way of life – proof of compliance with regulations as well as a way to ensure superior standards of safety and service.

While some 70% of charter clients are non-owners who use charter for all their business jet travel requirements- the other 30% are corporate flight departments which use charter as back-up or supplement when an aircraft is down- or extra “lift” is needed.

Those professional aviation managers want assurance that the charter operator selected won’t embarrass their flight department- and that it provides safety and service standards (nearly) comparable to their own. To find that operator requires a fair amount of detailed research. The problem is that no flight department has the time or resources to review every one. Occasional charter requirements often seem to pop up at the most inopportune moments - like when the company plane is stuck in Dismal Seepage- Kentucky… and that is why those aviation managers rely on independent Part 135 audit companies to provide a reasonably objective standard- against which the 2-000+ turbine charter companies around the world can be measured.

These audit firms do what the individual flight department cannot: monitor the charter universe for safety- and in most cases- for service too. Whether it’s ARGUS- the Air Charter Safety Foundation- R. Dixon Speas- Wyvern- or another established aviation consultant- professional aviation managers rely on these independent experts to keep their executives safe- and avoid occupational embarrassment- when flying aboard charter aircraft.

For corporate aviation managers- Part 135 auditors are a clearing house for charter safety and service data; a source of valuable information about who does it right- and who is lacking among charter operators. They are a clearing-house for the charter operator too.

A forward-thinking charter operator listens for any best-practices recommendations the auditor can share- in order to improve- or streamline its policies and procedures. But for charter operators- these audits also can be a nightmare. It’s not about fear of failure- but rather the sheer number of possible audits. There is no one standard acceptable to all clients. One wants a Wyvern Wingman; another covets the ACFS; the next- an ARGUS Platinum.

One flies internationally and needs the IS-BAO stamp of approval- while this charter client always works with the Van Allen Group or JDA Aviation. And while there are some auditors who do “a lick and a promise-” spending one day with a canned checklist- most properly performed audits require several days of operator preparation plus several more on-site with the auditor.

In days of yore- the only concern for a U.S. charter operator was the unannounced FAA SWAP (Systems Worthiness Analysis Program) inspection of operations and maintenance. Today- several man-weeks annually may be required to comply with various client-required audits. The debate over whose audit standard is most accurate is best left to another column. Suffice it to say- complying with the various third party audits today is simply a cost of doing business for charter operators worldwide.

But no audit compliance is required of the Part 91 operator…yet. The recently-passed deadline for ICAO Annex 6 SMS compliance will change all that for those who fly internationally. Even though it is but a single audit standard to which they must comply- you should hear them holler!

It seems that for many Part 91 folks- the word “auditor” brings to mind green eyeshades and government minions in search of fiscal malfeasance. For them- “Being audited” translates “We’re going to find out what you’re doing wrong.”

The aviation auditor – in many cases- the same ones who audit charter companies on their behalf – who should be a clearing house for information on ways to improve - suddenly becomes a lightning rod for resentment and perceived interference.

“I don’t need this and I don’t have time for it-” declares the aviation manager. “I do a risk assessment every time I fly. I’m an experienced professional. I get a complete physical every year and attend recurrent flight training at least annually- as do my pilots and technicians. And you say my operation needs auditing?”

Well- yes you do: ICAO Annex 6 says so- and the FAA agrees- albeit with a slight delay of game. Your company’s financial results are audited every year- and not because the boss doesn’t trust the accountants. It’s to prove that the company is in accordance with universally-accepted standards and best practices. That requires independent- third-party verification by professionals who devote their time to staying on top of best practices – something an aviation manager with line pilot duties simply can’t do. The pace of change in today’s world demands that. No sooner have we adapted the PC as portable EFB than the iPad is introduced as an alternative.

IS-BAO’s SMS has become the de facto vehicle for compliance for ICAO Annex 6. The audit and review process required by three phases of implementation must be conducted by a trained and registered auditor. He can conduct information and improvement – or lightning. It’s your choice.

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