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How safe is my FBO?

Steve Gulvin from Emerald VIP Services discusses the financial and personal benefits of adhering to IS-BAH and how the standard is helping the business aviation sector create a global platform for safe aircraft handling


For an industry that’s over 100 years old, it’s strange to think that the world of FBOs only got its first internationally recognized handling standards in 2014. Corporate flight departments globally adhere to a stringent set of aviation regulations, laid down by their national aviation regulatory authorities, that drive best practice with a safety culture of paramount importance.

Operators further demonstrate their commitment to safe operations by embracing industry standards, such as the International Standard for Business Aviation Operations (IS-BAO), which builds a safety culture and is written for the industry, by the industry. Yet, when it came to the physical handling of aircraft on the ground, it was left to the individual FBOs to put into place standards that would ensure a safe environment – not just for the aircraft and the people that fly in them, but also its own staff.

After the success of IS-BAO, the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) developed a much needed program for business aviation handlers – IS-BAH, the first set of International Standards for Business Aviation Handlers. This was rolled out in 2014 by IBAC following 10 years of research and collaboration between NATA, EBAA and NBAA. Since its inception 29 FBOs have become IS-BAH certified across the Americas, Canada, Europe and Asia.

One question often voiced is what the financial benefits are for FBO operators adhering to IS-BAH. “I have my own standards, I have not had an accident in years, so why do I need this?” To answer this, I look back on my own career.

In my time I have operated independent FBOs across the Middle East and Europe. Safety was always paramount, but how safe was my FBO? Did we operate a set of standards that we lived and breathed every day? Did we learn from incidents and put in place processes to ensure that they did not occur again? Being transparent, no, not all the time. What I needed and what the industry could not give me were tools I could use to evaluate all areas of my FBO to ensure that we did operate a safe operation, all the time, in a format that could be scaled both geographically and culturally.

Here’s a question: How many of us over the years have stored catering food for the aircraft in a common use fridge, which might also be used by staff members or have other opened food items stored in there? I have my hand up, yet if that food became contaminated because the fridge temperature gauge was faulty or other food contaminated it, the risk could be you poison the passengers or worse still the cockpit crew would become ill when they were somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. I never gave this a thought, yet I thought I ran a safe operation.

IS-BAH has this and a host of other areas that might not come to mind when you look at getting those aircraft in and out of your FBO. I worked for 10 years with one of the largest FBO networks and we had an excellent safety culture that had been built up over 20 years. Was there room for improvement? Absolutely, we knew it and ensured that we constantly reviewed and tweaked our processes accordingly and indeed, assisted IBAC with the formation of the IS-BAH standards. Yet, we had the benefit of over 20 years’ operating multi stations globally, learning from incidents, putting in place processes, ensuring they were communicated across the network.

When I ran my independent FBOs, I did not have that experience. I could not tap into that expertise and then came IS-BAH. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying IS-BAH is just for the independents. It isn’t, big or small, we continue to learn new things. What IS-BAH does is ensure that all that expertise over the years is now available for everyone.

And yes there is a cost and yes it’s still not evident that the corporate flight departments and trip planners now have an IS-BAH certification as a key criteria point for when they select their FBO, but is there a benefit, absolutely, whether its financial in terms of damaging an aircraft or more personal when you have to visit one of your people in hospital or worse. I have been in both those situations and if IS-BAH helps prevent that happening again then sign me up.

Having a process that allows FBOs and operators to deliver handling operations to a measurable standard is a significant step forward in our industry. The standards may need to mature and adapt as fine details are tuned, but as a platform for safe operations, certified by professionally trained auditors, whose performance is assured through an ongoing registration process, I see IS-BAH as a positive move to build professional standards in the global handling market.

Steve Gulvin has worked in the aviation arena for 35 years, initially in the Royal Air Force where his time included three years with The Queens Flight. He has been involved with FBO startups in the Middle East, Russia, France and Ireland. He ran his own successful FBO at Paris-Le Bourget Airport for nine years and also spent 10 years in a senior managerial role with the world’s largest FBO chain where he was part of a team that opened or acquired FBOs across a number of European countries. He has also worked for a number of prestigious Royal and Governmental Flights Departments in the UK and Middle East. He currently works as director of sales, marketing and strategic planning at Emerald VIP Services. 

December 5, 2016



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