Does Compliance Imply Safety?
By Bob Conyers
Sr. Manager, Safety Management, Baldwin Aviation Inc.
Our aviation industry is heavily regulated. At least, that’s how it appears to those of us on the inside. Governments in all corners of the globe create rules that seem to drive every part of how we do business.
They regulate the design, engineering and development of the hardware. They regulate our operations, training and even service. We often complain about this abundance of rules. There are so many laws that it can be hard to keep up with the lawmakers. Just when you think you have the old rules figured out…they write new ones.
The United States has the most widely developed, yet diverse civil aviation community in the world—from ultra-light machines no bigger than a parachute to the largest, most advanced transport aircraft. Aviation serves the needs of casual enthusiasts, people who fly for business and millions of people who just need to travel across the country as cheaply and safely as possible. All of them are served—and protected—in varying degrees by regulated oversight administered by the Federal Aviation Administration. It can be argued that the FAA regulates only to the degree necessary to protect the public. The greater the potential risk to the general public, the more there is a need for regulation.
Perceiving flying to be a potentially life-threatening endeavor, airline passengers naturally believe strict regulations provide a high degree of safety assurance. The major airlines are heavily regulated because the customers have no way of evaluating the safety credentials or compliance of any particular airline. And, in this case, the heavy rule-making approach seems to be working. The leading airlines of the world provide one of the safest modes of travel in human endeavor.
Travelers who wish to use on-demand charter services have more companies from which to choose, and several means by which to judge differences between those charter companies. The per-flight loads carried by charter operators are much smaller than those carried by the typical airline, and thus those flights pose less of an overall risk to the general public. For these reasons, the regulatory burden on charter operators is less than it is on the major airlines.
People (and corporations) that own aircraft and use them for private purposes know their crew members, their maintenance personnel and their schedulers. They exercise complete control over how their aircraft are used and who flies in them. Except to the degree that ground damage to some innocent bystanders might result from a private aviation accident, the general public is not at risk from privately owned aircraft. Therefore, regulations for Part 91 operators are much less restrictive than regulations for the airline or charter operators.
This is true even though business jet operators face more safety challenges in terms of dispatch support, maintenance support, airport facilities and approach technology. Often the business jet pilot is the sole decision maker when weather or maintenance issues arise inflight. There is no “Company Rep” to fall back on. That would seem to indicate that the amount of regulation has no impact on business aviation safety.
So, if a greater degree of regulation is not behind corporate aviation’s safety success, what is? In a word, it is professionalism. That is not to say that airline employees are not professional, but business jet pilots, maintenance technicians, schedulers—everybody in corporate aviation—make safety a prominent and visible part of their everyday business plan. While the airlines primarily strive to meet their objectives within strict regulatory guidelines, business jet operators know that their success depends on doing their jobs safely.
The FAR Part 91 regulatory bar is at a level that almost anyone can clear. But business jet operators raise that bar to a significantly higher level. They established a set of operating standards that are well above regulatory minimums. Whether it’s in the area of fatigue management, annual training, takeoff and landing performance, maintenance procedures or aircraft equipage, our standards are much higher than the regulations require. We do this simply because it is the best way to ensure business success.
Through the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) operators develop and promote the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO). A prominent feature of IS-BAO is the need to adopt a Safety Management System (SMS). This systematic approach to safety, when voluntarily applied in an appropriate way, makes regulation of safety redundant and unnecessary.
Over 380 business aircraft operators worldwide police themselves by voluntarily adopting this standard, and that number grows every day. The business aviation community demonstrates convincingly that a high level of safety in flight operations can be achieved without excessive regulatory burden. As long as we continue to perform at this level and as long as we continue to improve, we should have a strong argument for reduced–or should we say “reasonable”–regulation.
Keep doing the right things. We are all in this together.
Customized Safety Management programs developed by experienced and credentialed safety professionals include training, manual management and SMS implementation/software. Based on ICAO and other international standards and regulations, Baldwin’s programs support Business Aviation, Charter, FBO, Airport, Medical Transport and Regional Airlines by providing advanced software, an outstanding customer experience and our Commitment to Excellence.
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