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Business Aviation Has Lessons For All

Pilots and other aircrew members, as well as their flight operations managers and other aviation professionals, can take justifiable pride in their expertise.


September 26, 2007
By Ken Pole

Topics

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Pilots and other aircrew members, as well as their flight operations
managers and other aviation professionals, can take justifiable pride
in their expertise. It has come often at huge personal expense and
always after hundreds, even thousands, of hours of training in
classrooms and on the job.

However,
the Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA), as it has worked
with others in the industry on the Private Operator’s Certificate
(POC), began to realize a while ago that there was a “knowledge
shortfall” in the industry. This awareness came from what CBAA
president Rich Gage describes as “overview feedback” from independent
auditors over the past four years or so.

The shortfall
apparently was most evident at the management end, “the operation of
safety management systems, soft skills, anything you could capture
under that umbrella,” Gage explained in an interview. “The industry
itself does a very good job on the technical side with courses and
simulator work and I don’t think we had any intent to move into those
areas.” However, the “fairly significant knowledge gaps” in a number of
areas not typically covered by the CBAA and its counterparts elsewhere,
or by Flight Safety International and its like, presented an
opportunity.

It happened to coincide with a shift within the
industry to a more performancebased regulatory approach and away from
the hitherto prescriptive model. “That gave operators more latitude to
scope out the way they want to do things,” Gage said. “But it came with
added accountability and responsibility. That was one of the driving
elements behind what we’re doing. It’s part of our responsibility to
manage the POC and now that we’re getting feedback, we have a
responsibility to address training limitations.”

In realizing it
was an issue within business aviation, the CBAA felt it “highly likely”
that it would be much the same elsewhere in the industry. “So if we’re
going to go into training, we’re going go into training with a broader
brush than just our own 604 grouping,” Gage said. “Once we thought that
through and realized there was a demand, a need, and that we believed
there was a business plan, we realized that there was a possible
mechanism to generate revenue for the association.”

Generating
revenues from fees, Gage and his crew at CBAA headquarters in Ottawa
began building the wherewithal to continue delivering and expanding
their training. “It’s to meet the demands and needs of the community
… and to try to develop a consistent revenue stream for the
association. It not only pays for the infrastructure and salaries and
so on but also allows us to add some moneys to the association coffers
to look at other initiatives…. The whole POC program has had a lot
more impact than just the fact that we’re issuing certificates.”

Enter
Glenn Priestley, who left the Air Transport Association of Canada last
year to become the CBAA’s director of training. “Glenn’s program allows
me to show Transport Canada that we recognize there’s a knowledge gap,”
Gage said. “We have a plan in place to help close that gap, so we’re
meeting our commitment as far as the POC’s concerned. We believe that
there’s a larger community out there that needs training and from that
we think we can generate revenue for the association.”

For the
time being, at least, the plan is to use those revenues to cover
identifiable training costs until the CBAA is able to quantify a range
of complex elements. Since introducing its POC program, the CBAA has
been able to hold fees at their January 2003 introductory levels,
thanks to growth in the business aviation community that has offset the
cost of added resources.

It has yet to be determined exactly
what the business outcome from training will be and Gage expects it
could be another year or so before the CBAA is better able to say
whether the revenues from training should be simply tossed into the
association’s general pot. While he has “some ideas,” the board of
directors’ view of the balance sheet remains one of overall revenues
and expenses. “We’ve not spent huge amounts of time trying to segregate
them. We may wish to do that down the road if we were thinking about
reorganizing the association in some other context. We could
restructure and maybe have different independent business models.”

He
stressed that he was essentially thinking out loud, that it was far
from a planned process for now. “We’ve developed a program and are
demonstrating its viability. Once we’ve got that going, we can start to
refine what the next steps might be – whether we go into some kind of
Webbased training or move into other areas.”

Gage also was
careful to explain that the CBAA is “quite sensitive” about treading on
other industry toes. “There’s always a danger of doing a little of that
and perhaps we’ve done it already, but it’s certainly not intended. We
want to connect the supply with the demand, but in due course, when our
industry at large and our members in particular become clearer as to
what they like or don’t like, it’s still a little bit of ‘try this,
test that, and see what might work and what might not work’.”

Having
said that, the CBAA has cemented ties with organizations such as the
RCMP, which has clearly defined requirements and for which the CBAA is
customizing some of its training syllabus. But the RCMP is a large
organization with a diverse structure across Canada, so its interests,
predictably, can be different from mainstream CBAA membership.

A
couple of RCMP pilots, along with a group from Execaire as well as
Wal-Mart’s aviation department and others participated recently in an
IFR seminar given by Dave Holland, president of Ottawabased
Aerosolutions, a consultancy he founded in 1995. Holland, an Airbus
A320 training captain for Air Canada whose more than 14,000 flying
hours include years of C-130 Hercules transport operations for Canadian
Forces as well as extensive time on single- and twin-engine aircraft
and business jets.

Holland spent eight years at Transport Canada
as an inspector with varied check pilot responsibilities. He also wrote
the department’s Instrument Procedures Manual and has chaired the
International Civil Aviation Organization’s study group on automatic
air reporting of meteorological conditions.

Working with
associates who bring their own particular expertise to training,
Holland has consulted to Nav Canada and various airlines as well as to
the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. At this particular IFR seminar in
Ottawa, Holland took more than a dozen pilots, some with thousands of
hours logged, through various exercises. The presentation and ensuing
freeflowing exchanges underscored his students’ desire to maintain and
preferably improve their cockpit skills.

“That is, of course,
the whole premise and philosophy of continuous training: continuous
improvement,” Priestley explained. “We had representatives from the
Ministry of Natural Resources who have an instrument rating but don’t
use it very much. It’s part of the job requirement. Sometimes weather
is a bit dicey and they need that extra skill. So they recognize the
need to do brush-ups.

“In the same room, you had a large service
provider (Execaire) which put 10 of its pilots there because they
recognize the diversity of their experience.” At one end of the
spectrum was a 30-year Air France veteran with 30,000 hours while the
other end was represented by a younger pilot who evidently had flown
the Pilatus PC-12. “They wanted them all to be refreshed to the same
understanding and level. As for the RCMP’s participants, “even though
one used to teach IFR, he needed a refresher because he’s just been put
in charge here in Ottawa,” Priestley said. “He’s been VFR for three
years.”

Curiously, Gage considered the IFR seminar something of
an anomaly within the CBAA’s training syllabus. “That was really a
little bit of a departure from what we typically envision.” Less
atypical would be an early May seminar on flight departments’ roles and
responsibilities, organized by the CBAA in response to feedback from
several operators’ chief pilots or operations managers. They know the
Aeronautics Act inside out but they evidently wanted to focus on
regulatory elements such as occupational health and safety, labour
ministry requirements, and dangerous goods handling — more managerial
than operational.

Gage said that if he had been presented with a
list of course material a year ago and it had included the flight
operations and IFR options, he would have agreed to the former but not
necessarily the latter. But, as he’s finding out, and the RCMP is a
good example, members indentify what they need and Priestley and the
various consultants customize a program.

There is increased
emphasis on “soft skills” and the overall concept of safety management.
The CBAA and others have talked for years about cockpit resource
management and the like and are now delving deeper into human factors.
“That’s where I envision it,” Gage said. “Where it sort of parks itself
over time is, I think, yet to be fully determined.” If a course is
poorly attended, say three times, it will be scrapped. On the other
hand, a “try one and see” attitude sometimes bears fruit; when the
notion of an emergency response planning seminar was floated earlier
this year, it expected maybe 15 registrants and got three times that
number.

While Transport Canada concentrates increasingly on
regulation, there could be pressure to offload its remaining training
initiatives which, it could be argued, could be done more effectively
and efficiently by the private sector. Would the CBAA want some, or
all, of that? “We will not continue doing this unless it makes sense
from a dollarsand- cents perspective,” Gage said, demurring at the
concept of outright privatization of whatever training the federal
department still does. “It’s premature to consider it right now because
we really haven’t developed our own infrastructure,” but he wouldn’t
rule out the possibility entirely.

As for the potential for
increased training opportunities, Gage cited the Calgary market, which
has a number of relatively small flight operations departments with
four or five staff. “For them to do training on their own is
costprohibitive,” he agreed. “But if we can get one or two people from
several operators, then we’ve got eight, 10, 12 people in a classroom
and it becomes cost-effective for them. Many of the courses Glenn is
organizing involve fewer than 20. Hopefully we’re capturing those
people who couldn’t do training before because they simply didn’t have
a large enough flight department.”

In fact, 10 minutes before
joining Gage for the interview, Priestley had been fielding a call from
a company seeking his advice on how to set up a flight department,
right down to the floorspace the company might need.

Also in
response to members’ requests, the CBAA scheduled a safety and security
professional development day in conjunction with its 2007 convention.
“It’s for anybody, but particularly schedulers, dispatchers and ramp
personnel,” Priestley said. “These groups have not had the profile and
certainly not the training opportunities pilots get, but they’re all
vitally important to safety and security issues around an airport.”

And
they’re too often minimally trained. “That’s right,” Priestley agreed.
“The trainers we’ve lined up are well-recognized. It never stops. The
membership’s appreciating what we’re doing.”

He said there also
is demand for an aircraft command course because a substantial number
of pilots need to upgrade to the left seat from the right. CBAA has
begun developing this course and also is considering requests for a
high-altitude course which could include the use of consulting
companies’ simulators to induce drowsiness and even hypoxia.

Priestley
added that to be fair to Transport Canada, it should be noted that it
had developed various training models in past years simply to fill a
void in the market. “Nobody else was doing it,” he said. “We’re the
first aviation association that has not only just mused about it but
also made a definite corporate decision to do it.”

It helps that
there’s a growing corporate presence to exploit. Gage said the roster
of business aircraft operators in Canada has doubled in the past four
years, an annual growth rate of 15-18%. “When we started out on this
program, we thought we would be issuing 135-150 POCs. We’re at 280
today.” Instead of three or four a year, it has been three or four a
month.

“We know there’s a lot of aircraft in the pipeline which
have been sold but are yet to be delivered,” he continued. “So you have
a changing dynamic, new flight departments. The guys that I’ve known in
the past 10-15 years, some of them are still around, but there’s a
whole lot of new faces.” He chuckled at the recollection of a recent
CBAA chapter meeting in Edmonton. “Two or three years ago, I would have
known 85% of those people. Today? I’m lucky if I know 10-15%. I see
that as good news.”

He attributed it to a strong economy, and a
“significant uptick” in new aircraft orders as the exchange rate with
the US dollar improved. There also was the increased demand for more
convenient point-to-point service and operational flexibility, from the
entry-level operators to those whose companies are trying to operate
more globally.

“All of these things are driving growth, and
there are new entrants who are not necessarily skilled or even trained
to manage these types of aircraft, so we’re getting their questions.
That’s happening on a daily basis…. We’re starting to recognize
globally that there’s this massive need for training and if we want to
drive down the accident rate and we want to have a community that’s as
good as we can make it from a risk-management perspective, we need to
introduce new ideas.”

The bottom line for everyone, of course,
is safety and while the CBAA believes that its members’ record is
similar to that of the airline community, data to demonstrate that is
either non-existent or of poor quality. That’s why the CBAA is
collaborating with AON Explorer, an arm of the AON Insurance group, on
quantifying business aviation’s economic footprint in Canada.

Gage
said Merlin Preuss, Director General of Aviation at Transport Canada,
has staff trying to find an appropriate way to determine and validate,
among other things, the Canadian business aviation community’s accident
rate, which clearly could present training opportunities for the CBAA
and others.

“We have very good data on the airline world, the
commercial element, but we don’t have very good data on general
aviation as a whole and business aviation in particular,” Gage said.

In
the final analysis, the CBAA’s new direction is emerging as a classic
winwin scenario, buoyed by an underlying optimism throughout the
industry.

“I don’t think we would have been able to get to this
point without the bulk of people winning,” Gage said, admitting that
while he continues to hear gripes from “probably a handful” of
owner-operators about higher costs for keeping current, it’s a fading
phenomenon.

“The operator community eventually accepted what we
wanted to do because, over time, more and more started to recognize
that it was going to be beneficial to them on a cost basis, which is
easy to justify to their bosses. And it’s beneficial to them because
they were going to have more hands-on responsibility.”