Tips on Broadening Your Flight Department's Safety

Maximizing the effects of ‘Positive Safety Performance’ in your flight department

Mario Pierobon  |  07th November 2016
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Mario Pierobon
Mario Pierobon

Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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Safety generally, and BizAv Flight Department Safety specifically, can wrongly be measured by the lack of harm to people, which implies a negative approach to characterizing a discipline, argues Mario Pierobon. How can you instead broaden your flight department's safety with the effects of ‘positive safety performance’?

The science and practice of safety has traditionally focussed on counting errors or threats and trying to build better controls around them. Today, this ‘pessimistic’ (reactive) perspective is increasingly being challenged.

Among those doing the challenging is safety scientist Erik Hollnagel, who argues that safety does not primarily emerge from controlling the things that work poorly in a technical system, process or organization – instead, the focus of the safety science and practice should be on the things that go well as efforts are made to try and maximize their positive contribution.

This ‘optimistic’ approach is not very well defined yet in terms of workable solutions for safety professionals to put into place, but it is worth considering the ways positive safety performance affects the overall safety in the corporate flight department.

An Endless List

There’s probably an endless list of positive factors contributing to safe outcomes in the domain of Business Aviation. These include well engineered aircraft; reliable equipment; and well developed training syllabi, etc. Such factors, however, may not universally apply. For example, not every organization has (or can afford) access to sophisticated technical solutions supporting flight safety.

Yet, there are some recurrent patterns that apply commonly throughout the Business Aviation industry, almost irrespective of organization, that significantly contribute to positive safety performance.

  • Enthusiasm: First and foremost, a high degree of enthusiasm in the workforce is required. That comes from a passion for the job, be it a flying or support job. How will a Flight Department Manager achieve the level of enthusiasm among the staff to keep them sharp in terms of safety matters?
  • Creativity: Flight Departments tend to be relatively small in size and from this, a series of other positive dimensions emerges, including the need to be creative, and for solutions to be found autonomously.
  • Accountability: Smaller organizations also have strong accountability. Team members know their decisions will directly impact them or their immediate colleagues.
  • Leanness: Small organizations, like corporate flight departments, also tend to be very lean, dramatically improving the efficiency of decision making and getting straight to the point when discussing safety-related matters.

Business Aviation is essentially a small world. Professionals generally know one another pretty well – and this, at least theoretically – enables an information exchange should issues that impact safety industry-wide emerge.

Pilots in cockpit

Growing the Optimistic Approach to Safety

In many ways these dimensions are nearly a ‘given’ within Business Aviation. Yet while they have not really been ‘engineered’ top-down in the industry, they survive in spite of financially challenging times.

What an ‘optimistic’ approach to safety management does require is the reinforcement of good behaviours. For individual organizations it all comes down to empowering people in the workforce.

These empowerment efforts should be exercised throughout an employee’s tenure with the organization.

Employees should be hired if they are perceived to satisfy the soft skill requirements for ‘enthusiasm’, ‘creativity’ and ‘accountability’.

These skills should be fostered during their time on duty (both during line operations and as a part of their professional development). That may mean adequate focus being placed on those skills during crew resource management training.

Meanwhile, capitalizing on the ‘lean’ nature of the Flight Department, managers should provide immediate feedback to employees when safety issues are raised.

In essence, organizations should always strive to avoid complacency: It is simply not enough to accept the above safety performance enablers are a given; they must be continuously reinforced lest the organization gradually drift into sub-optimal and then poor performance.

In Summary

A positive approach to managing safety needn’t replace the more traditional safety efforts – like hazard identification. Yet it should be kept in mind that a Flight Department could always be doing more to understand why things go well most of the time, and reinforce those best practices.

Aviation professionals should always be looking to broaden their flight department's safety standards. A strong ‘Positive Safety Performance’ focus to the more traditional preventative measures is a leap in the right direction for any BizAv Flight Department Safety effort.


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