BlueSky: The Paramount Importance Of Safety

Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, chief executive of London Executive Aviation (LEA), one of Europe’s largest business jet charter operators, explains why there can never be too much emphasis on safety and why cutting corners is not an option.

In every sector, there are certain practices that quite simply cannot be taken for granted and must forever be at the top of the list of priorities. In business aviation, this applies to the issue of safety. As an industry, we may pride ourselves on offering the most convenient, swift and comfortable mode of transport, but all of this counts for nothing if the wellbeing of the customers and crew is not prioritised.

Safety has been engrained in the ethos of LEA since we took our first steps into business aviation back in 1996, and since then, I have witnessed a consistent improvement in safety throughout the entire industry. This is a notion supported by the facts and figures. According to Ascend, which provides expert advisory services to the global aviation industry, the rate of fatal accidents in the business aviation sector dropped from one per 600 aircraft in the 1990s, to one per 5,000 aircraft in 2011 (the rate is expressed as risk per airframe/year, rather than per million flights, because of unreliable global aircraft movement data in this sector). While it’s reassuring to know that we are moving in the right direction, one must not allow this positive trend to breed complacency. Instead, we must accept that there is always more work to do.

Outside of the industry, there is a misconception that safety compliance involves nothing more than having reliable pilots and aircraft. However, while these are obviously vital, safety must be prevalent throughout every single aspect of day-to-day operations.

At LEA, for instance, every member of each department must have a complete understanding of all aircraft types on our air operator’s certificate. As well as the annual simulator and line training, our pilots undergo intensive screening and there are many annual ground courses which must be completed, for example in areas such as fire and smoke, dangerous goods, first aid and operational proficiency. Our engineers are continually assessed and keep in regular contact with manufacturers and maintenance providers to ensure they are fully briefed on the latest service bulletins, and maintenance personnel themselves must be qualified to work with specific aircraft types.

Safety also extends to the operations department that is responsible for chartering our aircraft, and every member of the team needs to have a solid grasp of all aircraft, including issues such as operational capabilities, flying range and runway performance, as well as being familiar with the cabin interior of each of the aircraft. In addition, a number of audits and assessments, both internal and external, are carried out on a regular basis and we have a dedicated internal safety review board, whose job it is to set out the LEA safety strategy and ensure we are not overlooking even the most minor of issues.

I often hear people within the industry expressing concern about the red tape that is attached to external audits, but my view is that all of these rules and regulations are in place for a very good reason. Carrying passengers on an aircraft is very different to any other form of transport. If your car goes wrong, you can just pull over at the side of the road. If your aircraft goes wrong, it’s a completely different story.

Regardless of how confident you are that your fleet of aircraft and members of staff meet all the safety criteria, you must still be prepared for any eventuality. On this front, at LEA we have regular staff safety bulletins and a Change Management System is in place as part of the overall Safety Management System to ensure the risk assessment strategy is adhered to when a new aircraft type is added to the fleet. Also, we have recently been working on updating our Emergency Response Plan, which details what actions must be taken should an incident occur. Our philosophy is to be prepared for anything and if a potential incident becomes a reality, the very least we can do is ensure that we are fully prepared to take swift action to minimise its impact.

Enhancing safety usually involves investment, and this is another concern that I often hear expressed. When you add together the cost of training, audits, maintenance and every other necessity, it results in a significant outlay. However, even when finances are strained, you can never afford to cut corners on safety for the sake of saving money. Of course, it makes perfect business sense to regularly review safety-related expenditure to ensure it is being spent in the most effective and efficient manner. However, overlooking safety in favour of preserving the company’s bank balance will only serve to undermine the industry’s reputation and, far worse, put the lives of our colleagues and customers at risk.

Published in: BlueSky 11 April 2013

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