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NBAA’s National Safety Forum Tackles Pressing Safety Topics

Oct. 12, 2017

NBAA’s third annual National Safety Forum focused on three of the NBAA Safety Committee’s 2017 top safety focus areas: fitness for duty, airport and ground handling safety, and loss of control inflight.

The half-day event, held Oct. 12 in Las Vegas, NV on the last day of NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE), sought to provide not only information, but also practical tools designed to enhance the safety of business aviation operations. Interactive conversations between presenters and the audience helped facilitate the exchange of information.

In addressing session attendees, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen noted that safety has been a high priority for the association since its founding in 1947 and is an essential part of creating an environment that allows business aviation to thrive. “We must be safe and perceived to be safe, said Bolen. “This was a fundamental challenge in 1947, and it is a fundamental challenge today.”

Bolen added that in order to further lower the business aviation accident rate, safety efforts need to be data-driven. “We need to understand what is at the heart of safety issues – what went wrong, how we can correct it and how we can do better in the future.”

NTSB member Earl Weener, one of several government officials who participated in the forum, commended NBAA for its safety initiatives. A general aviation pilot himself, Weener reminded the audience that “safety is everyone’s responsibility” and “there is always room for improvement.”

He also stressed the importance of safety leadership, saying “we always sweep stairs from the top down.”

Fitness for Duty Is Fundamental

David Ryan, chair of the NBAA Safety Committee, characterized fitness for duty as “our most fundamental issue.” Two moderators of this segment of the forum – Greg Farley of John Deere Aviation and Jeff Wofford of CommScope – along with three panelists – Dr. Quay Snyder of Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, Daniel Mollicone from Pulsar Informatics and Kent Stauffer of Constant Aviation – did a deep dive on the topic, including a discussion of circadian cycles and the impact of sleep deprivation.

Mollicone noted that fatigue can lead to procedural lapses, increased distractions, errors and, in extreme cases, performance worse than those with blood alcohol levels in excess of the legal limit. He also said inadequate or disrupted sleep can exacerbate other health problems. In addition, he warned that eating fried foods late at night, as some pilots are known to do, can cause heartburn, which can exacerbate the effects of too little sleep.

Snyder addressed a range of subjects. He said that mental health affects performance, but that efforts to compartmentalize personal problems often are unsuccessful. However, naps, which ideally should be are 20 to 40 minutes long, can help enhance fitness and counter fatigue.

Stauffer, who contends that we are poor judges of our own fatigue levels, suggested that maintenance technicians working long shifts should be evaluated after 10 hours on the job. He also recommended that technicians should perform simpler tasks during circadian lows.

Perhaps the most important way to deal with fatigue is having a policy to deal with it, and Farley introduced NBAA’s new draft Fitness for Duty Policy during the forum. Farley also advised that if a flight department member admits to not being fit for duty, a manager’s first response should be, “What can we do to help?”

Ground Handling Incidents Frustratingly Expensive

Airport and ground handling incidents, which Ryan called “our most frustrating and expensive issue,” was addressed by several speakers.

  • Farley noted the importance of conducting airport risk evaluations, not only for all new airfields visited, but at least every two years for frequently visited destinations.
  • TAC Air’s Bob Schick detailed the National Air Transportation Association’s Safety First program, which includes line-service training in deicing, hazmat, garbage handling, etc.
  • Gino Matteoni of Signature Flight Support detailed his FBO chain’s effort to ensure ramp safety.
  • Lou Sorrentino of Aviation & Marine Safety Solutions International said establishing heightened awareness is key to any safety system and that standardized risk-reporting is important.
  • Terry Yeomans reviewed the International Business Aviation Council’s International Standard for Business Aircraft Handlers.

Addressing Wake Turbulence Risks

The final topic covered at the forum – the need for good high-altitude wake turbulence decision-making to avoid loss of control inflight – featured a well-known, recent case study of the Challenger/Airbus A380 encounter over the Arabian Sea. Paul "BJ" Ransbury, Aviation Performance Solutions; Tom Huff, Gulfstream; John Cox, Safety Operating Systems; Etienne Cote, Bombardier; Randall Brooks, Aviation Performance Solutions and Dann Runik, FlightSafety International discussed the best practices for awareness, prevention and recovery from loss of control inflight situations.

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