AINsight: NBAA Safety Committee Round Table

 - September 24, 2021, 11:30 AM

With the sole purpose of making business aviation safer, the NBAA Safety Committee has reinvented itself into a “finely tuned machine,” according to committee chair Jeff Wofford, and charted a course by releasing its top safety focus areas for 2021/2022. Using the association’s “foundations of safety” as a focal point, the Safety Committee has identified several priorities that support a continued commitment to improving business aviation safety standards.

To learn more, I spoke with the committee’s leadership to discuss its new strategy and methodology for developing its list of top focus areas geared towards mitigating major threats to business aviation safety. We closed out the meeting with a brief discussion on the major deliverables and events scheduled for NBAA-BACE in less than three weeks. 

According to Wofford, earlier this year the committee’s new leadership began “aligning itself with its mission, vision, and values to identify its priorities.” Through this evolution, the committee used its foundations of safety—professionalism, safety leadership, risk management, fitness for duty, and technical excellence—as its core value to become laser-focused on three actionable categories. Those three encompass addressing preventable accidents, engaging unique operational concerns, and identifying and implementing mitigation strategies.

Providing actionable information to the membership and industry is a key component of the NBAA top safety focus areas. According to Safety Committee vice-chair Paul “B.J.” Ransbury, to identify the three major categories “the committee took a business approach to determine these priorities.”

He added, “Through a threat analysis, we were able to identify different areas where we would be able to mitigate and improve aviation safety.” Using this process, the committee was able to provide more clarity to organize its work and come up with mitigation strategies for each of the areas identified.

Inclusion on the list of addressing preventable accidents was largely a data-driven exercise and intentionally limited to a manageable number. “These preventable accidents are the traditional look where you go to the data,” Ransbury said.

The data from the NTSB based on the demographics of the NBAA membership—either corporate/executive, Part 135, or owner-flown business aviation—identified the top-three accident categories as loss of control in-flight (LOC-I), runway excursions, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).”

According to Ransbury, “A fourth category—ground operations and maintenance accidents—were added from a practical standpoint, since those accidents weren’t included in the NTSB data…[but] are often overlooked and considered to be low-hanging fruit by experts and are preventable.”

LOC-I accidents account for more fatalities in general aviation than any other category. As a result, the NBAA Safety Committee has targeted LOC-I as the top preventable accident category.

Ransbury, a noted expert on aircraft upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT), said, “the LOC-I working group has been looking into what a deficiency might be and what would help pilots from an operational practical standpoint to make a difference.”

The working group is engaged in developing source documents—the first covers aeronautical decision making and the second addresses the qualifications of UPRT instructors.

Stabilized approach criteria, no-fault go-around policies, and timely runway conditions are all effective in mitigating the runway excursion threat. The committee has identified runway excursions as a preventable accident type.

According to Wofford, “The runway excursion group is developing a ‘Departure and Arrival Quick Reference Guide’ as a resource to develop briefings related to the performance limitations and considerations prior to takeoff or beginning the arrival and approach to landing.” Another document is a “Post-flight Debrief Tool,” also in development, to help facilitate a discussion on runway safety and other areas related to flight safety.

In the past, CFIT was routinely in the top one or two areas of concerns,” said Ransbury, “but despite mitigations such as synthetic vision and EGPWS, it continues to be a serious threat.”

Safety data shows that often EGPWS alerting is the result of a loss of terrain awareness by the pilots and has the potential to lead to a catastrophe—meaning in the absence of a EGPWS warning/alert, the aircraft would have crashed. As a result, the NBAA has established a working group to further define strategies to prevent these events.

In addition to addressing preventable accidents, top safety focus areas include timely and relevant discussions on unique operational concerns, such as operating a flight department during a global pandemic.

As an example, the Safety Committee addressed flight crew and maintenance proficiency due to a reduction in the operational tempo during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Likewise, the committee has accounted for many of the new life stressors associated with Covid. Through member surveys, NBAA recognized a need to focus on physical and mental health and fatigue.

Wrapping up the discussion, NBAA director of safety and flight operations Mark Larsen pointed out that “the Safety Committee exists to provide guidance and resources to membership on safety issues.” According to Larsen, “There are more than 60 volunteers from across business aviation that make up the committee.”

He adds, “The committee is largely responsible for developing safety content at NBAA-BACE.” Major safety events scheduled for the 2021 NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas, Nevada include the Single-Pilot Safety Standdown on October 11 and the National Safety Forum on October 14.

The Single-Pilot Safety Standdown will include work to mitigate some of the challenges of single-pilot operations. Wofford said that “much of the content is an extension of last year’s virtual event and will include information from the owner-groups and the Single-Pilot Working Group.”

Topics are geared towards single-pilot operations with a focus on decision-making, safety risk management, and safety assurance processes. NTSB vice chairman Bruce Landsberg will lead a discussion on assimilating a proactive safety system.

The theme for this year’s National Safety Forum is more broadly based and will focus on professionalism and leadership. It will have a town hall discussion on leadership and excellence in aviation safety featuring Convergent Performance CEO and chief learning officer Tony Kern and EagleView director of safety Dr. Tony Cortés. A moderated panel discussion follows, along with the annual flight department awards ceremony.

According to Wofford, “The Safety Committee is now more efficient and effective, rather than looking one or two years down the road, the committee is now set-up for success years down the road with better organization, communication, and a solid work plan to make business aviation safety by aligning with the association’s foundations of safety.”

Pilot, safety expert, consultant, and aviation journalist Stuart “Kipp” Lau writes about flight safety and airmanship for AIN. He can be reached at stuart.lau3@gmail.com.