- 11 Aug 2022
- Mario Pierobon
- Flight Departments
Following the review of the pressures on operators to strike the right balance between growing demand for private jets and protecting pilot wellbeing, Mario Pierobon looks at some best practices to help...Back to Articles
As any Flight Department Manager would attest, safety management is not a simple undertaking. Those tasked with overseeing it often find themselves dealing with complex situations.
It’s well known that Business Aviation service providers face significant pressures on many fronts, particularly at this time of high demand. “On the one hand, there’s the importance of running Business Aviation companies at a profit, providing prompt and efficient service. On the other hand, there is the need to conduct operations safely,” an industry consultant told AvBuyer.
“The importance of individual responsibility is certainly something that should be emphasized more within a Flight Department,” he explained.
Unfortunately, when a pilot assumes responsibility, their behavior may be wrongly considered excessively cautious, “particularly within an organization that’s not proactive in targeting and achieving the highest safety standards.
“But if push comes to shove, that pilot will at least quit their job with their license intact”, and they will find themselves searching for employment with a more safety-conscious operation at a time there is high demand for pilots.
When it comes to organizational responsibility, however, the consultant believes that the safety manager shouldn’t be a pilot. “The safety manager should not be anyone who has a hierarchical dependence with the rest of the operational chain.
“Even if, as a safety manager, they only report to the accountable manager, if they’re a pilot they will inevitably interact as a safety manager with their chief pilot too,” he highlights. “Ideally, a Business Aviation organization should have an external consultant as safety manager – someone who is not as integrated in the department as an operating pilot would be.”
While realistically it may not always be possible to hire an external consultant, in this case “the most effective solution is to interact with someone who may not be as experienced in aviation, but is assigned from the area of quality management,” the consultant suggests.
Having an external party as the safety manager can provide a fresh, independent point of view, which is not bound by the habits of the flight department. “It could be useful to have an internal employee as a contact person on safety subjects,” the consultant adds. “It should ultimately be someone who is adept at illustrating problems to pilots, mechanics, and others.”
This, according to the consultant, is the only way to avoid a conflict of interest that arises automatically as a general concern of aviation businesses – the cost of safety. “It’s not always easy to weigh the costs of safety against the possible costs of unsafe operations”, the consultant highlights.
“Nevertheless, on a structural level the independence of the safety manager should be guaranteed, and subsequently there has to be a clear, basic policy on safety that is visible.”
Establishing Clear Standards
According to the consultant, in the United States safety is somewhat self-regulated. There is no mandate for a safety management system (SMS) unless the flight operation undertakes Part 121 flights.
“Whether an SMS should be implemented on a voluntary basis or made mandatory makes a major difference, because those who do it on a voluntary basis are certainly much more motivated,” the consultant highlights.
“Where an SMS is mandated, the implementation may be motivated by the fact that there is legislation stating exactly what must be done. The operators may not be focused on pure safety management, but on the documentation of the SMS to show it’s in place.”
This hardly creates a supportive culture for pilots, nor promotes a proactive approach in terms of safety. The mere fact of an SMS existing is not what guarantees safe operations. In fact, if the SMS is merely paying lip service to the regulations, it’s unlikely to be wholeheartedly followed.
Ultimately, existing regulations can be implemented in an organization’s SMS in a compliant, effective way, without the need to fall into the trap of following the documents robotically.
“A Flight Department’s SMS should be a response enabling operators to identify targeted means that help them handle the main concerns relating to the safe function of the organization.” This includes identifying and having safeguards in place to ensure the wellbeing of its pilots is protected during times of heavy demand.
“It is exactly about handling the different types of pressure pilots encounter every day,” the consultant concludes.
Read more about the pressures on today's private jet flight crews