Rats & Hangar Rash: Keep Your BizAv Standards High

With private aviation insurance premiums growing and renewals becoming harder to get thanks to a rise in preventable claims, what can Flight Department Managers do to uphold the highest standards of practice? Andre Fodor provides some thoughts…

Andre Fodor  |  14th December 2021
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Andre Fodor
Andre Fodor

With a focused approach on global excellence and creativity, Andre Fodor has managed flight operations...

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Private Jet alone in hangar

This is a time to be focused, vigilant, flexible, and meticulous in planning and maintaining high standards of service in the flight department. Demand is high, but then, so are business aircraft insurance premiums…

Over the past 18 months, there has been a huge uptick in demand for Business Aviation. The industry is straining to deliver high-quality service to new and existing customers alike. Compounding the situation is a shortage in experienced workforce. This is a time when we all must be focused, vigilant, and flexible, meticulously planning ahead in great detail to maintain high standards of service.

Just recently I renewed our aircraft’s insurance. Once again, I saw an increase in premiums, higher deductibles and even less coverage offered. It seems we were the ‘lucky’ ones.

There are smaller, single pilot operations which have been flatly told that non-renewal is imminent unless they fly with two equally trained-in-type pilots. And for some who are operating older aircraft, denial of renewal may well force their aged aircraft into obsolescence.

As I spoke to one insurance broker, he told me of ever increasing preventable claims emanating from ‘hangar rash’, damage to aircraft under tow, and aircraft maintenance mishaps. With these challenges facing our industry, we need to stay laser sharp in preventing them from happening. But how? Perhaps these examples from my own personal experiences will help spark some ideas…

Spotting the Signs of Slipping Standards

During a busy day in our hangar, as our aircraft was being cleaned and given its post-flight check, I answered a call on my cell phone. Becoming engrossed in the call, I was painfully reminded of my immediate environment as I hit my head against the aircraft’s leading edge slats.

It was a hard hit, classified as a concussion by my doctor, which required me to sit out several trips to recover.

The bigger problem is that I wrote the hangar safety standards and then broke my own guidelines. This was a clear indication that we had let our standards slip and needed to re-focus on excellence.

Don’t Compromise on Experience

Experience, or the lack of it, can also be crucial in avoiding mishaps. You may find yourself working with FBO employees that have only a few weeks of aviation exposure. This could be your wing walker, or the person servicing the water and lavatory of your multi-million-dollar airplane.

After watching some security camera footage in which a wing walker was staring at the wingtip of an airplane, rather than the winglet extending four feet beyond it, we made a decision that our airplane should not move under tug power without someone from our team present to supervise.

While the wing tip in the security footage never struck the hangar, the protruding winglet did – and it required a full (and costly) replacement.

Similar challenges are applicable to maintenance and quality assurance. A colleague recently called from London having just ‘crew-swapped’ into an airplane. He was doing a pre-flight check before crossing the Atlantic. During that inspection, he’d found a roll of safety wire in the floor of the aft equipment bay.

Unsure of whether he should just pick up the roll, continue his pre-flight, and proceed with the flight, or whether the find merited a maintenance write-up, he sought the second opinion of someone he respected.

The perspective of an experienced colleague who is removed from the pressure of the moment will help you assess a situation. It may also help fill a knowledge gap, or add experience and know-how to an ongoing discussion.

In this case, we reasoned that if the roll of safety wire had been forgotten, there was a chance that something else (like a set of pliers) could also be lingering in the bay. And considering that the airplane had left the maintenance facility several weeks before this flight, who could tell if the wire moving around had caused some damage?

Although we concluded that all was probably Okay, we agreed that such a find warranted calling maintenance to do a thorough inspection before flight. Nothing unusual was found, but that was preferable to encountering an otherwise undetected problem mid-Atlantic.

Expand your Scope of Oversight

There had been an unusually high rain fall, which, according to the pest control guy, causes rats and other rodents to seek shelter. Unfortunately for us, they managed to gain access to our hangar where we keep our aircraft, tooling, service lifts and our very expensive Ground Power Unit (GPU).

One day, when our technician attempted to power up the aircraft with the GPU, nothing happened. Inspecting it for signs of malfunction, he heard a squeak as a large rat and its entire brood emerged and fled from inside.

Further inspection revealed that these rats had a healthy appetite for colorful wiring and computer cables. Weeks have passed and we are still attempting to fix the GPU.

Few of us in aviation management would have thought our job descriptions made us responsible for pest control. But then, like all things in aviation, many of us have grown to accept the many surprises as they come our way. Be prepared to expand the scope of your oversight to anticipate even some of the more unlikely mishaps occurring in your operation.

In Summary…

These are exciting times for our business, and it has been a while since we saw so much demand. That should be your cue to become safer, renewing your efforts to stay sharp and safety minded. This is achieved with a culture of self-empowerment, and a sense of ownership and pride within your team.

Together, Flight Department Managers can make our industry become a reference for high standards and great service.

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