Airline travel in America is safer today than it ever has been. We certainly take advantage of the fact that the airline industry, at least in the U.S. and Europe, is highly regulated and generally “safe.” But what about private aviation? Are all private aircraft operators safe? And are they all created equal? How does one ensure their private jet operator is taking safety seriously?
Unfortunately, no. While newer safety management systems (SMS) are an ICAO standard, it wasn’t until 2015 that the FAA mandated specific, detailed safety management systems for U.S. airlines. But to date, private aircraft operators in the U.S. are not required to implement specific safety management systems (although many operators do voluntarily.)
What does this mean for the private jet passenger? There’s no cause for alarm – the typical private jet operator does comply with ICAO standards and the better ones voluntarily incorporate some type of safety management system, but a bit of due diligence is warranted to ensure your private jet operator takes safety seriously.
When searching for a private aviation company to work with, consider taking a close look at how the company operates when it comes to safety. Do they have a successful safety management system? What does it really mean when a company says that safety is their “number one priority?” Here are eight important questions to ask about your private jet operator:
1) Do they have a safety management system (SMS)?
Safety management systems are relatively new to the aviation industry. Some operators may still operate without an FAA- or ICAO- approved SMS, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t safe. Many of the concepts involved in a formal SMS program have been in place at certain operations for years, and in some ways FAA and ICAO are just giving it a new, fancy name. We do know, however, that operations that transition from having no SMS or perhaps an informal safety program to a formal SMS see a very significant decline in unsafe events and mishaps. The impact of a good safety management systems is real, so look for an operation that can show evidence of an FAA- or ICAO- sanctioned safety management system.
2) Will they offer information about their air operations certificate, insurance, and the pilots’ qualifications?
Due diligence always begins with the basics, and just as you’d make sure to use licensed and insured contractors for a construction site, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting licensed and insured aircraft operators when you shop for a private jet operator. Potential clients can check the FAA database to ensure an operator has the appropriate operating permit.
3) Where do their pilots come from and how are they trained?
Good pilot training is an important function of flight safety, of course. But how do you know what type of pilot you’re getting? Ask where the pilots come from, what standards they are held to, what their training consists of, and what their work schedules are like. Corporate pilots have initial and annual training requirements, and good record-keeping should be a no-brainer for any operation.
4) How do they ensure proper maintenance of aircraft?
Along with good pilots, proper aircraft maintenance is a backbone of any aviation operation. Knowing where aircraft are sourced and how they are maintained is important, and any operator should be completely apprised of how maintenance is being conducted. Is it in-house or contracted out to a secondary location? Are the maintenance records complete and organized? What type of leadership is involved in maintenance management?
5) Do they promote a positive safety culture?
Promoting a positive safety culture is more than just having a safety management system on paper. It starts at the top. Executives and middle managers need to be fully on board with making safety a priority. Is safety encouraged or overlooked? Is a dispatcher who chooses to cancel a flight due to safety concerns applauded or reprimanded? Can you get a general idea of how happy employees are with the safety aspects of their job?
6) Is the company recognized by leading industry organizations?
A company who makes safety a primary concern will be part of industry organizations that promote safety through services like peer mentorship, research and data collection, information disseminating, conferences, and other various learning opportunities. Being recognized by groups like IATA, EASA, the Air Charter Safety Foundation, NBAA, AR/GUS International, or Wyvern shows that the operator takes safety seriously, is willing to learn, and wants to improve.
7) What measures are taken to ensure safety in areas of operation outside of the airplane, such on the ramp or in maintenance hangars?
Safety doesn’t start and end with making aircraft and pilots safe. Many incidents happen on the ground or in a hangar as the result of ground operations or some other non-flying related operation. An operator with a good safety management system will incorporate all aspects of the operation into their safety program, from catering to crew scheduling.
8) Do they have an emergency response plan?
All private aircraft operators, even smaller ones, should have an emergency response plan that includes what to do in the event of an emergency. The scene of an airplane crash (although extremely unlikely) is not a good place to try to get organized. There are many operational components of emergency response include first responders, airport managers, company managers, the FAA and NTSB, aircraft manufacturers, and media – all of which will prove chaotic without a proper emergency plan.
At Magellan Jets, we understand the need for you to know your private aircraft provider is safe, so we’re happy to answer your questions. Schedule a time with one of our private aviation consultants for more information on our membership services and our commitment to safety.