A new study of global business aviation safety standards has shown that, in much of the sector, accident rates are significantly higher than for airlines, and flightcrew mistakes or omissions are causal in most events.
Recognising that the training pilots ordinarily receive largely ignores the need for human factors knowledge and skills, Bombardier has for 13 years been providing free training in this vital but neglected subject to all pilots at its Safety Standdown, held annually at Wichita and, for the last three years, here at EBACE.
The recent business aviation safety study, headed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority in association with the Business Aviation Safety Partnership, concluded that although corporate aviation's safety standards compare favourably with the airlines, the rest of the sector suffers eight times more fatal accidents per million flying hours than the airline industry. But even corporate aviation performs relatively poorly, the study found, on ferry, positioning or training trips.
Bombardier claims that "Safety Standdown is designed to change the way you think about safety". From personal experience at Wichita and Geneva, I can tell you it does. Taking the slogan "War on error", the Standdown imparts "the philosophy of knowledge-based training and personal discipline". Even the most experienced pilot will leave the Standdown having learned a lot about him or herself as an aviator, but also with a regenerated enthusiasm for the job.
For a complete aviation makeover, pilots need to attend the four-day Wichita course, because it provides specific skills and awareness training of a type not normally provided on ordinary piloting courses, as well as all the human factors coaching.
These practical sessions include exposure to the effects of hypoxia, ditching drills, first aid including resuscitation drills, cabin evacuation in smoke, and hands-on firefighting. The one-day EBACE Geneva Standdown concentrates on the human factors skills, presented under the generic headings of crew resource management, professional airmanship, advanced aerodynamics knowledge, and fatigue countermeasures and awareness.
Business aviators have a greater need to be multi-talented than airline pilots, because the variety associated with their job and the need to be their own operations manager when away from base demands a higher degree of flexibility, resourcefulness and self-discipline. Yet normal pilot training does not provide preparation for this, and the CAA report recommends that it should. The Standdown goes a long way toward providing some of that missing knowledge, self-confidence, self-awareness and self-discipline.
(David Learmount is a former UK Royal Air Force Lockheed C-130 pilot and flying instructor)