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Passengers on business aircraft are the most valuable asset of any company or family. By setting the appropriate standard for safe operations and insisting that the aviation service provider apply that standard- a user of Business Aviation can enjoy a level of transportation safety that truly protects those passengers.

Pete Agur   |   1st May 2012
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Pete Agur Pete Agur

Peter Agur Jr. is Chairman and Founder of VanAllen - a business aviation consultancy firm with...
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Verifiable standards for Business Aviation safety

Passengers on business aircraft are the most valuable asset of any company or family. By setting the appropriate standard for safe operations and insisting that the aviation service provider apply that standard- a user of Business Aviation can enjoy a level of transportation safety that truly protects those passengers.

Regardless of whether the transportation services are obtained through your company’s flight department or chartered from a commercial firm- you need to understand what is the appropriate safety standard for the provider of the Business Aviation services. There is an energetic debate about that issue going on right now. It is a healthy dialogue contrasting the past with the future.

Before the turn of this century- aviation “safety” focused on preventing accidents. In other words- it was reactive to the hard lessons previously learned by others. Today- safety is far more forward-looking as it seeks to manage real and potential risks. This is done by identifying- measuring and mitigating risks in a proactive approach to avoid damage or injury. The most widely used term for this approach is ‘Safety Management System’ (SMS). SMS is becoming the QMS (Quality Management System) for aviation.

Evidence of an established SMS is already a regulatory requirement for flying jet and turboprop aircraft within several regions of the world- including the European Union- and SMS will become mandatory for commercial operations in the US within a few years. In the meantime- the effective application of SMS within Business Aviation is a safety Best Practice.

Universal acceptance of a single Best Practice for Business Aviation is challenging. The community is small- relatively speaking- consisting of about 19-000 operators of jet and turboprop business airplanes worldwide. When you consider the diversity of their owners- businesses- operating environments and cultures- however- you can appreciate why achieving a unified set of Best Practices in very difficult at best.

Without a single standard it has been easy for executives and aviation managers to self-anoint their operations as upholding ‘Best Practices’ - or even ‘World Class Practices’ in safe operations. Yet a number of aviation departments routinely perform to lesser standards.

I presented my first paper to the Flight Safety Foundation on the subject in the 1990s and have been making presentations and writing articles about aviation safety ever since.

More than Prevention
Best Practices are situational. Let me be clear; safety Best Practices are about much more than merely preventing safety failures. Safety Best Practices assure the intended outcomes with a minimum probability of significant variances. Some companies and their aviation departments seek to confirm their standards and practices by ‘benchmarking’ against others- but benchmarking has little to do with Best Practices. Benchmarking only confirms what others are doing.

Is there a simple solution for establishing Best Practices? A number of vendors and industry organizations are trying to establish themselves as the source for Business Aviation Best Practices. Several charter vendor-auditing companies are marketing their proprietary protocol-based audits as Best Practices. Beware: their standards are based on air taxi regulations with some enhancements.

‘Best Practices’ for the company flight department requires its own approach that considers the holistic aspects of air transportation for company employees or family members of entrepreneurs.

On the other hand- the European regulatory authorities require proof of an applied Safety Management System (SMS) for any large jet or turboprop aircraft operated within its airspace- whether it is flying for private or commercial purposes. This approach is more practical and is an improvement- but it is not quite hitting the mark for global Business Aviation because it only requires documentation of the existence of an SMS- not its full implementation.

That brings us to the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and its development of the International Standards for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO). IS-BAO has been established as a voluntary standard that was introduced in 2001. IS-BAO was created by IBAC in recognition of the need for a documented and systematic approach to Business Aviation operations. It is taking off and continues to mature.

There are three “stages” of IS-BAO achievement that are confirmed by certified auditors using comprehensive protocols. In lay terms:

• Stage 1 requires that appropriate systems and processes (including SMS) are in development. Stage 1 satisfies the EU requirement for proof of SMS use. There are currently about 500 aviation organizations qualified as registered with IBAC- mostly based in North America. (Note: that is less than 10% of all North American aviation departments- however.)
• Stage 2 requires that systems and processes have been developed and implemented under direct supervision. About 100 aviation organizations have achieved this status - or less than 1% of all North American aviation departments.
• Stage 3 requires full organizational commitment to IS-BAO performance standards and practices. Only about 50 organizations have achieved this highest level of IS-BAO registration - less than 0.1% of all North American aviation departments.

IS-BAO Stage 3 registration assures your aviation services are “doing things right.” It is the ultimate industry recognition for performance. It needs only one more ingredient to achieve true ‘Best Practices’ stature. That ingredient is within the purview of the user of business aircraft—making sure the aviation service provider (i.e.- your company flight department or your charter service) is “doing the right things.”

As the user- armed with the information outlined here- you have the right and the obligation to approve the standards (embodied within policies and practices) used by your company or family to obtain aviation services.

Blend IS-BAO Stage 3 with policy and practices oversight by knowledgeable and independent third parties- and you will have verifiable Business Aviation Best Practices.

IS-BAO (International Standards – Business Aircraft Operations) is sometimes referred to as the answer to establishing and maintaining “Best Practices” or better. But- does IS-BAO really spell “r-e-l-i-e-f” when it comes to assuring aviation performance?

A few years ago there was a push to regulate Business Aviation by some of the member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) commissioned the development of IS-BAO in response to a perceived need for a documented and systematic approach to Business Aviation operations. In 2001 IS-BAO was established as a voluntary standard- and as it matures the pressure for added regulation has declined.

International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations is worthwhile- and its value continues to grow. Its greatest impact is realized only when it is fully implemented- however. Full implementation requires progression through three stages (as listed in the preceding article)- and each stage is confirmed by certified auditors using comprehensive protocols.

As the principal user of Business Aviation- you must approve the standards (embodied within policies and practices) used by whatever entity (in-house flight department- management company or charter company) provides aviation services to your organization or your family. Consider IS-BAO as a fundamental element in fulfilling your responsibilities for safety.

1. Require your Business Aviation services to achieve IS-BAO Stage 3 based on your specific standards and policies.

2. Empower your aviation organization to implement and fully employ the resources and practices needed to create and maintain IS-BAO Stage 3 performance.

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