The “New Normal” in Aviation Safety

Steve Brechter

By Steve Brechter
Senior Advisor of Operations, Gray Stone Advisors

Posted on August 3, 2020
Hockey player on ice shooting puck

Much is being written these days about the shifting of “normalcy,” given the global COVID-19 pandemic. What we have come to understand as “normal” in business aviation today has changed dramatically in just a few short months.

Whether it be the precipitous drop in business aviation travel demand, new requirements for sanitizing our aircraft or even the way we handle onboard catering, things are radically different now.

Who could ever have foreseen such a “mega shift” in such a short period of time?

We need to be ready for continued change and the redefining of “normal.” Everything we do in business aviation, especially with respect to safety, is subject to the same “normalcy shifts.” The bar of safety keeps getting higher and higher. And rightfully so.

The great hockey player Wayne Gretzky was once asked in an interview how he became so good at the sport. His reply? “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

As a business aviation professional, how do you “play the game” when it comes to safety? Do you think and act in terms of where the puck is (“We’ve always done it this way.”) or are you anticipating and reaching for ever-higher levels of safety and risk mitigation—that is, where you believe the puck will be tomorrow?

How to Anticipate the “New Normal” in Aviation Safety

Achieve “Best Practices” in Safety & Risk Mitigation – Many flight departments today fully embrace safety and risk mitigation best practices by becoming IS-BAO registered. But it’s surprising how many are still reluctant to undergo the IS-BAO registration process. Frankly, I don’t understand why.

The size of the operation is irrelevant. Whether your fleet size is one aircraft or five, the most important question is, “Am I doing all I can to reduce risk?” Are FRATs being done for all flights? Are MRATs being done for all maintenance actions? When operational changes occur, are you undergoing a “change management process”? Do you have a Safety Committee and is it meeting frequently enough?

In aviation safety, you should always play to the future position of the puck when it comes to safety. Our advice is that every operator fully embrace it.

Exceed “Minimal Regulatory Requirements” – In our regulated operating environment, minimum criteria are often defined to establish proficiency. The prevailing philosophy seems to be “Meet the minimum criteria and I’m good.”

Really? In terms of safety, is “minimum” what we should be striving for? We don’t think so.
Instead of achieving “good enough,” reach for excellence.

The FAA’s AQP Program is a great way to do that. We can learn much from our brethren in the Part 121 and 135 worlds.

To reduce the impact of human error, the FAA allows the operator to adopt flexible training criteria to provide a more meaningful training experience. These criteria exceed the minimum requirements of the regulations and for maximum effectiveness, operational safety data is utilized to create a meaningful training syllabus.

Clearly an excellent way to reach for excellence in safety and risk mitigation.

If the above are too much of a stretch for your flight department right now, here are some simpler yet highly effective steps you can take right away to “play where the puck will be” in safety.

Peer Group Flight Department Safety Stand Downs – At Gray Stone Advisors, we always look for the silver lining during times of challenge. And if the COVID-19 pandemic provides one, it’s the increased availability of time.

With the flight schedule greatly reduced at many Part 91 flight departments, why not partner with peer group operators on the field and conduct a Safety Stand Down?

A Safety Stand Down is difficult to do when the flight schedule is full, but now there’s capacity. Find out who’s doing what particularly well on the field or in your region and let them conduct that part of the seminar.

It’s a great way to benchmark, strengthen relationships and retarget your flight department to aim “where the puck will be” in terms of safety best practices.

Cabin Safety Training – Another great way to take advantage of reduced flight activity during the pandemic is to conduct that ever-elusive cabin safety training session for your executive passengers.

Sure, you’ll need to get creative and do it virtually. You and your team can be positioned in the aircraft, with the executives attending virtually from wherever they’re most comfortable.

We know of a flight department that not long ago conducted cabin safety training with its frequent executive travelers. Following the session, the executives themselves requested that smoke hoods be placed on the aircraft. No hard sell from the flight department required.

The Bottom Line – The bar for safety is getting higher and higher, and rightfully so. In business aviation, we need to be ever vigilant that we’re reaching ever higher and “playing where the puck will be” when it comes to safety. Not where it’s always been, or at minimal levels of compliance. We owe nothing less to our executive travelers and fellow aviation team members.

Are you playing “where the puck will be” when it comes to aviation safety?

Now is a good time to check.

Gray Stone Advisors Gray Stone Advisors
Gray Stone Advisors combines their experience both in leading businesses as well as business aviation operations to provide flight department leaders with proven strategies for excellence.

© 2021 Gray Stone Advisors. All Rights Reserved.

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