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Lane Aviation: 75 Years of Safe Flying Is No Accident

Milestones are important events in a company's history, and NBAA Member Company Lane Aviation in Columbus, OH marks an important anniversary in May. The fixed base operator (FBO) and on-demand charter provider, based at Port Columbus International Airport (CMH), has operated safely for 75 years. CEO Thomas Deuber says that record didn't happen by accident. Foster Lane founded Lane Aviation with a Driggs Skylark biplane in 1935 after touring the country in the late 1920s as a barnstormer. "So May 1, 1935, was the day our safe flying record began," said Deuber.

Through World War II, Lane began to expand his business because he knew that aviation would become an important tool for companies. He opened a flying school, built two hangars at Columbus Airport and used converted military planes for charter. The flight department at Lane Aviation continues to be a core part of the company.

"We feel like we're the custodians of this incredible safety record," said Deuber, who has been at Lane Aviation for more than 30 years. "And we are dedicated to keeping the legacy and safety culture alive."

Flying Safely

"You can't look at safety procedures from a 30,000-foot level; you have to look on the ground level," said Mark Myers, Lane's marketing and charter director. "It has to be in the day-to-day activities and at the forefront of your mind. There has to be a constant commitment to safety at every level of the company."

The company flies into diverse airports throughout the U.S. and Canada, and the 10-person flight department takes enormous pride in its 75-year safety record. "Safety is a living, breathing, ongoing process, and it has to be," said John Seymour, one of two Lane safety officers charged with monitoring and improving the safety culture. "Our staff takes pride in being successful and safe."

Choosing the right safety management system (SMS) was no easy task for Lane Aviation, said Myers, the flight department director. Years ago, the company decided that the ARGUS International, Inc., safety program fit its department well, but Lane officials have been considering other options, such as the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO).

"You can't implement and develop an SMS overnight," Myers added. "You have to constantly evaluate what program works for your operations."

In addition to adhering to standards from third-party auditors and Federal Aviation Administration regulations, Lane Aviation has its own 10-point risk-assessment tool that identifies and ranks possible safety hazards and concerns for each flight. Some of the items that are taken into account are weather, runway conditions and precision approaches versus non-precision approaches at destination airports.

"Having options is important" to ensure that flights are conducted safely, said Steve Evans, director of operations. If Lane pilots are flying into an environment that presents a safety concern, they do whatever is needed to minimize the risk to an acceptable level. That can be something as simple as increasing fuel requirements or diverting to a different airport or delaying the flight entirely until the safety issue is addressed.

Safety Company-Wide

The culture of safety not only applies to the flight department but runs throughout the company, according to CEO Deuber.

Besides the SMS for the flight department, another safety program governs the training and day-to-day responsibilities of the line-service personnel. Under that program, an in-house safety review board analyzes incidents that have or could have resulted in damage to FBO clients' aircraft.

In one case, a damage analysis showed that an aircraft winglet struck another winglet while being towed out of a hangar, causing minor surface damage. The information gathered from the data showed that it would be helpful to establish additional markings on the hangar floor where different aircraft should be parked.

"It takes a lot of effort to get the information together, but it's ultimately worth it," Myers said. "Our associates know that their actions can affect the bottom line of another company, and they know that a small mistake can have far-reaching consequences."

Safety in the Years Ahead

The safety review board is only one tool that Lane Aviation uses to promote a safety culture. The company also has an acronym for safety on any job: SAW (for "situational awareness"). "It's something that one of our associates came up with some years ago, and it really stuck," Deuber said. SAW not only applies to the maintenance techs or line-service associates but also to managers and leaders of the company.

"Too often organizations become reactive in their safety cultures," Deuber said. "But the monitoring that takes place, the constant risk analysis that goes on for our line service associates and managers, means we can have a proactive safety culture."

Ben Sherman, Lane's maintenance director, said communication is key to ensuring safety at Lane's maintenance department, which services not only the company's own aircraft, but the aircraft managed by Lane. "You have to go above and beyond and come up with new and better ways of communicating," Sherman said.

How can others achieve Lane Aviation's enviable safety record? "My advice to a CEO or owner is not to merely mandate a safety culture," Deuber said. "You have to be on level with your employees. Management must find practical and effective ways to keep operations as safe as possible."