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Single-Pilot Operations a Top Safety Focus Area

Oct. 6, 2014

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast on single-pilot operations safety. This is the ninth podcast in a series about the NBAA’s Top Safety Focus areas.

They do it all – fly the missions, oversee aircraft maintenance and supervise the training – and they conduct the business for which the mission is flown. Because owner-pilots wear so many hats, single-pilot operations are among the 2014 Top Safety Focus Areas of the NBAA Safety Committee.

“The safety record is not as good as it could be” for single-pilot operations, according to NBAA Safety Committee member Jim Lara. As the committee noted on its Top Safety Focus Area web page, “Owner-flown aircraft face unique challenges: often a lack of guidance, financial support, and clear procedures allow the pilot to use personal discretion without a set standard to measure against.”

An ATP-rated pilot with 12,000 hours as pilot-in-command, Lara has spent much of his flight time as a single pilot. As principal at Gray Stone Advisors, Lara counsels aviation leaders on a variety of topics.

He identified four areas on which single-pilot operators should be focused:

  • Operational discipline: Single-pilot operators generally have no one monitoring their flight operation, making them solely accountable to themselves for maintaining safety standards. “That means doing things right, even when no one else is looking,” Lara explained.
  • Commitment to continuous improvement: “You have to continually tell yourself that you are never as good today as you will be tomorrow,” he said.
  • Distraction management: “Being alone in the cockpit means you must always fly the aircraft, but being a business person means there are a lot of temptations that can lead your mind to wander,” noted Lara.
  • Airmanship skills: “You are solely responsible for maintaining your flying skills in such a way that makes you the safest pilot you can be,” he concluded.

Among the major issues single-pilot operators face these days is new technology in the cockpit. The newest flight management tools available to light business aircraft operators are astounding, Lara pointed out. However, they require a great deal of time to master.

“The litmus test is, if you find yourself asking, ‘What is it doing now?’ that is a clear sign that you don’t have the mastery of the avionics suite you need to be pilot-in-command,” Lara said. “You can get behind the aircraft very quickly. You have to be extremely competent in the software before you fly.”

To help single-pilot operators, Lara pointed to a trio of tools currently offered by the NBAA Safety Committee:

  • The Single-Pilot Safety Standdown: Offered on Monday, Oct. 20, the day before the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA2014) gets underway in Orlando, FL, this full-day event will draw upon the experiences of pilots, with an emphasis on peer-to-peer information sharing. Safety-themed discussions will focus on issues specifically affecting single-pilot operations, including runway incursions/excursions, loss of control, poor weather conditions, air traffic control and human factors. Review the NBAA2014 program schedule.
  • The NBAA Light Business Aircraft Operations Manual Template: This is a great tool for putting together a very appropriate operations guide for single-pilot operators, Lara said. Review the resource.
  • NBAA Safety Best Practices lists a number of concepts and actions that are found in flight organizations with a strong safety culture. Review the Safety Best Practices.