As NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt flew into retirement, he reflected on his time at the board saying concerns remain about flight deck professionalism, violations of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and the fact that passengers still don’t know how to judge the quality of flight departments or how to ensure they are doing the right things to ensure safety.
In the same vain, Stuart “Kip” Lau, reported on how few operators have Safety Management Systems citing Air Charter Safety Foundation reports.
Let the Flyer Beware
Sumwalt Reflects on Time with NTSB, Highlights Risk Management
“I think that my view of safety has evolved over the years,” Sumwalt told AIN. “I now look at safety as the primary practice of managing risk to an acceptable level. I think sometimes maybe people just blindly accept the risk, and it's important to assess those risk areas and manage the risk. If we could get people thinking of managing safety, if we could get them thinking in terms of it's really a risk-management situation, that would be an evolution.”
Sumwalt, who once ran a Fortune 500 corporate aviation department, pointed to an NBAA study finding 18% of flight department or flight crews did not do standard full flight control checks before takeoff.
“One thing that really bothers me is a lack of procedural compliance,” he told AIN. “And we do find that as a factor [in accidents]. Procedures are written generally for a reason. People say they're written in blood. There've been studies that have shown that once you start deviating from the SOP, you're more likely to have consequential errors. So, I think that's one thing that I do harp on.
“SOP compliance is one part of professionalism,” he continued. “I think it's important to ask ourselves, are we truly professionals? And I think everybody would say they are, but by what standard? I think professionals follow procedures. They have a respect for doing things properly. They're doing the right things even when no one is watching. I think in some cases, people spend more time trying to figure out how to skirt the regulations than actually complying with them.”
Sumwalt was echoed at the opening of a Hawker 700 accident hearing in 2015 when NTSB Chair Christopher Hart said “A traveler boards an on-demand charter flight with the assumption that these government and company protections are in effect. However, in the accident…we found a flight crew, a company, and FAA inspectors who fell short of their obligations in regard to safety.”
Lau noted both SMS and Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) are on the NTSB Most Wanted list. The board wanted FAA to require and verify the effectiveness of SMS in all revenue-passenger-carrying aviation operations.
There is history behind this stemming from the increasing regulations for the regional airline industry when NTSB first said all revenue operations should meet a single level of safety. The improving safety systems and commercial accident rates prompted NTSB to pivot its attention to business and general aviation. The warning here is if the industry does not develop programs on its own, they will be mandated.
Shockingly, Lau reported that of the 1,900 charter operators in the U.S., only 20 have been accepted into the FAA’s voluntary SMS program—approximately 1% of all Part 135 operators, the Air Charter Safety Foundation reported recently. Another 213 have applied, but once those operators are approved, they will still represent no more than about 10% of all charter companies.
“ACSF's organizational-based ASAP is a bright spot when it comes to Part 91/135 voluntary safety programs,” Lau wrote. “It was originally designed for Part 135 charter operators and has now expanded to include several Part 91 operators. ‘The program is structured so ACSF, not the FAA or operator, shoulders 90% of the administrative burden,’ according to ACFS President Bryan Burns. “Since its inception over six years ago, it has grown to include more than 200 participants—and Part 91 operators now make up over half of the total.”
Lau pointed to a new SMS Tool, simple, easy-to-use software platform for their use, now available. “From my experience, a true, active SMS solution can take up to three to five years to mature,” said Burns. “It takes that amount of time to change the process, attitudes, and culture. The old way of doing things in-house no longer applies. So, the time to get started is now.”