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Passenger Safety and Corporate Culture

A look out onto the busy ramp reminds me of just how much aviation has changed over the years. Back in the day, there were no such things as CARs, DG, CRM, or SMS, and the captain was always right. How did we survive?

November 30, 2009  By Tom Zeiser

A look out onto the busy ramp reminds me of just how much aviation has changed over the years. Back in the day, there were no such things as CARs, DG, CRM, or SMS, and the captain was always right. How did we survive? I remember in the late 1970s, there was an Amoco well near Drayton Valley that caught fire. The only way to smother the inferno was to utilize experts from Denver who had developed a technique of using high explosives to extinguish the flames. A Lear 35 was dispatched to pick up an explosives expert and fly him to the Edmonton International airport.  He was then transferred to a Navajo, which I flew. I transported him and his very special suitcase filled with high explosives to Drayton Valley. A few days later, the flames were successfully extinguished. That was then. Today because of dangerous goods rules and regulations it would simply not happen. The high explosives would never be allowed on board any aircraft.

Passenger safety awareness goes far beyond what you might find on a large scheduled air carrier.


Over the years the passenger briefing has also changed. I remember flying a Twin Otter in the late ’70s and saying, “Welcome aboard, in preparation for takeoff please ensure that your seat belts are fastened and your cigarettes are snuffed out. Thank you and have a nice flight.” Today’s briefing is more extensive, referencing emergency exits, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits, but typically, it is still minimal at best.

Although general aviation has evolved in many ways, the concept of passenger safety awareness has yet to be addressed. While the pilot in command is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the flight, corporate due diligence suggests that the aviation company in conjunction with the corporation chartering the aircraft, must provide the education required to ensure the safety of all the passengers.


The safety of a flight begins as the passenger packs his suitcase. For example, consider a product such as bear spray. The average passenger has no idea that the baggage compartments of most general aircraft are not sealed off from the cabin area. A punctured can of bear spray could incapacitate all on board, so therefore, should never be packed in a suitcase.

The greatest challenge to overcome on any flight is complacency. Familiarity can often breed apathy, both with flight crew and passengers alike. Because a typical charter company routinely transports the same passengers to familiar destinations an actual briefing could go something like: “You’ve all heard this before. You know that the emergency exits are two on the right and one on the left side. Do you have any questions? Have a great flight.”

As flight crew we train and prepare for the worst-case scenario as demonstrated in the take-off briefing. Here the normal, abnormal and emergency scenarios specific to this departure are reviewed, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. The flight crew is prepared for any contingency. The question remains, are the passengers ready? Have they been given a comprehensive briefing? Have they read the safety features card? Do they even know where the nearest emergency exit is? Where will they go after they evacuate the aircraft?

As an industry we are incredibly safety conscious. The CARs governing an airline with respect to passenger safety and the utilization of flight attendants are very specific. Unfortunately in a non-airline environment they are not. In addition to flying the airplane, the captain’s and first officer’s responsibilities extend to the passengers as well. In an abnormal situation the pilots must focus on resolving the abnormality. The result is that the passengers may be left in the dark until time permits.

Passenger safety awareness begins by adopting a corporate safety culture that is proactive and goes far beyond what you might find on a large scheduled air carrier. The reason is quite simply that in remote locations services are limited. Emergency vehicles may be a long way off and there is not always a building where passengers can seek shelter from the elements.

A different example is the South Terminal at the Vancouver International Airport where passengers deplane light to medium aircraft and must traverse a perilous and frenzied ramp as they navigate towards the terminal building. At Vancouver security is tight and all passengers must be escorted to and from the terminal by airline or security personnel. Have these people undergone a comprehensive course on ramp procedures? Not always. You can imagine my surprise when one day I realized that my first officer was unaware that a rotating beacon on an aircraft is the universal signal that it is about to start engines and one must stay well clear.

Vancouver is a controlled environment, but what about the ramps of many remote airfields? Here the passenger must assume responsibility for his/her own safety. The argument that they have done this many times and are familiar just doesn’t cut it. I have witnessed passengers sneak under the wing injuring their heads in the process. And yes, people are still smoking in close proximity to the aircraft.

So how do we facilitate a positive change within our industry? Traditionally the concept of safety in air transportation lies with the air carrier and more specifically with the air crew providing the safety briefing. However, corporate due diligence has influenced a change in this philosophy.

Safety has become the responsibility of everyone involved in air transportation. Beginning with the flight crew, pilots must understand that familiarity breeds complacency. They must strive to give a comprehensive briefing on each and every flight. With regular passengers one idea might be to brief something different on each leg or to add humour into the presentation. I know that pilots are very busy and conscious of “on time performance” but a few minutes spent on briefing the passengers will go a long way towards enhancing the efficiency and safety of the operation.

The air operator must work together with and encourage its corporate clients to provide a comprehensive overview of the potential hazards involved in the day-to-day operations in this unique environment. Corporate due diligence suggests that companies assume their share of the responsibility and educate their staff.

In addition to emergency procedures today’s passengers need to know what to pack and more importantly what not to pack. They must become familiar with the potential hazards within the terminal and ramp areas as they board and deplane their flight. Also, today’s passengers need an explanation of the changing security measures and expectations imposed upon them as they travel to and from their workplace destinations.

The challenge is that as an industry we have never embraced our corporate clients and invited them into our world. Our philosophy has been what they don’t know won’t hurt them. Well, it is time that we invited our clients to share the responsibility in providing a blanket of safety for all of our passengers. The result of such a proactive attitude will be a respect and an enthusiastic willingness to participate by our corporate clients. Corporations will only hire operators who share the same corporate culture. | W

Tom Zeiser is a corporate pilot and author of the book Soaring Sales. Through Pegasus Presentations, Zeiser has developed seminars and presentations for the aviation industry including “Sales Training for Flight Schools,” the “Skies
Are Safe” and the “Passenger Awareness Program.” For more information, visit


Prior to leaving home the passengers must be made aware of:

  • The appropriate clothing to wear for the weather at the destination
  • What to pack and more importantly what not to pack such as bear spray or other dangerous goods
  • The maximum weight allowed for checked baggage
  • The types of containers that are allowed in the baggage compartment

Once at the airport, a compre-hensive briefing should include instructions on how to safely traverse
a busy ramp. This may include:

  • Stay close to and follow the flight crew to your aircraft
  • Remain well clear of all other aircraft
  • Circumnavigate any area that may be contaminated with de-icing fluid
  • Remain well clear of any jet blast or prop wash as flying debris maybe lethal
  • Always walk around aircraft wings and not under them
  • Prior to leaving the terminal, passengers must be told to stay alert. Listening to an iPod or talking on a cell phone impairs situational awareness while on the ramp
  • If C of G issues exist, clarify where your passengers should sit

In addition to the standard briefing given by the flight crew, passengers should be familiar with all of the safety procedures and protocols on normal flights and:

  • What to do in any emergency situation; the flight crew will be busy addressing the abnormality and flying the airplane
  • What to do in an emergency should the flight crew become incapacitated


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