Almost two years have passed since the launch of the ISBAH audit standard. By now, you’ve probably heard about the International Standard for Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH) and what it means for aircraft ground service providers. If you’re like many in the industry, however, you probably also have several unanswered questions about how the standard works in practice, and how it interfaces with the work you are already doing. While IS-BAH may sound like just another round of best practices, it is much more than a passing fad. In fact, the fundamental elements of IS-BAH provide operators with far-reaching benefits, including international compliance, marketing advantages, better efficiency and communication, and of course, safety and more resilient operations.
Many aircraft operators are ahead of those of us in the ground services industry in terms of a systems-level view of managing safety and quality. IS-BAO, Air Charter Safety Foundation and other audit standards have been around for years in Parts 91 and 135 flight operations, and are often a requirement for client contracts or charter brokers. Today, hundreds of flight operations have undergone the rigorous process for achieving IS-BAO registration. In the February 2015 issue of the Aviation Business Journal, I wrote about defining safety as much more than the absence of negative events; and the comprehensive framework of IS-BAO has proven a valuable system for helping operators better manage safety, quality, and operational effectiveness. IS-BAH provides the same benefits to ground handling organizations, and it complements existing programs for training and service.
IS-BAO and IS-BAH are managed by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and were developed by members of the business aviation and handling communities. We’ll focus a bit more on IBAC—as opposed to some of the other standardization bodies—because it is the organization that manages the IS-BAH standard. IBAC’s member organizations include 14 business aviation associations from around the world. IBAC has permanent observer status with the International Civil Aviation Organization; and is an advocate for the business aviation community in that forum as well as others. When an operator chooses to conduct an audit to the IS-BAH standard, they do so through one of the accredited auditors listed on the IBAC website. IBAC itself does not conduct audits, so any agreement for the conduct, expectations, and costs associated with an audit are arranged between the operator and the auditor they choose.
Standards at face value are a way to provide structure and assurance that products and services are delivered safely and reliably and meet certain basic levels of quality. From an organizational perspective, standards are more than just a means for achieving quality and safety. They provide a framework for strategic direction as well, by incorporating a set of tools to minimize waste and errors, capitalize on improvements in communication, and increase productivity. IS-BAH and IS-BAO share common roots in the long-established ISO 9001 standard, one of the many standards the International Organization for Standardization promulgates around the world.
The primary focus of the IS-BAH standard (and the IS-BAO) is on systems. What that often means in practice is that we must adopt a holistic, process-based view of how we approach our business. Even in the heavily-regulated world of Part 121 and 135 carriers, standards are a useful way of codifying not only what we do, but how we do it at an organizational level, and how we continuously improve as a group. An important distinction is that IS-BAH is a performance standard. Rather than focusing on compliance with a strict set of guidelines, the standard seeks to push registered operators to design systems that can be monitored and validated toward reducing inefficiency and better identifying risk. Risk is an important element to IS-BAH, because the central tenet of the standard is a sound, appropriate, and effective safety management system.
Why is participation in a standard like IS-BAH a great idea, even if you already utilize the NATA Safety 1st Professional Line Service (PLST) curricula? The short answer is that the two are vastly different, but complementary. Just as an aircraft operator who is IS-BAO registered must still meet minimum training requirements for flight crews by following the aircraft performance guidance and adhering to an approved flight operations manual, an aviation ground service provider uses procedures and operational best practices in support of its daily operations. While IS-BAH provides a systems-focused set of strategic-level organizational processes and practices, programs like PLST provide a basic set of skill-based procedures for action.
Many operators mistakenly assume that a program like IS-BAH is something that only applies to large, multi-location operators, or that achieving registration with the standard involves significant costs; but the truth is that looking at your business, operations, and safety performance from a systems perspective can provide immediate and lasting benefits. Standards are what you choose to make them, which is to say that they are scalable to the size and scope of any operation. If you consider the business benefits of applying the standard, it could offer some of the best value for money your business can get. Operators who have applied the IS-BAH standard and pursued registration have identified a number of ways their businesses realized value from committing themselves to achieving registration:
- Improve service delivery—Organizations who have undergone the registration process for IS-BAH have almost universally commented about the transformative nature of it, noting specifically that the consistency and quality of their service delivery was improved as a result. When companies seek to understand what they do as a set of interacting processes, they have to communicate internally. Not only does process understanding improve communications, but other initiatives tied to safety promotions and hazard reporting also break down organizational barriers. Organizational studies overwhelmingly show that a strong commitment to open reporting, inter-departmental information-sharing, and safety communication reduce waste and improve efficiency. That boosts customer service and increases profits.
- Prove your commitment to safety—Telling prospects and clients that you are committed to safe operations is one thing, but proving it is another. One look at the data shows that ground operations remain one of the riskiest for aircraft. The Flight Safety Foundation estimates that airlines alone sustain ground-related damages of approximately ten billion dollars a year, and insurance data show that ground handling claims are the most frequent in aviation, and they are costly, averaging over $100,000 per loss. With that dismal record, it is no wonder that many aircraft operators view FBO claims of safety with some skepticism. IS-BAH provides a proven framework for proactive and predictive management of safety, and while it won’t guarantee that you will never have another accident, the data show it is less likely in organizations that manage safety as a system, the costs are better controlled, and recovery-to-normal-operations is accelerated.
- Win new customers and retain existing ones—Ask any aviation charter broker about audit standards, and they’ll tell you that they use audit registration as a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. As more and more aircraft operators are adopting standards like IS-BAO, they are strengthening the methods they use to determine whether or not service providers meet their level of safety and quality performance. Just as charter brokers and clients are looking for operators with a demonstrated commitment to proactive safety management, aircraft operators and managers are similarly vetting their FBO and maintenance providers. A commonly understood standard like ISBAH—which also shares much of the structure from IS-BAO— allows potential and existing clients to verify that commitment. In fact, that verification is as easy as visiting www. fbostatus.com, which shows NATA Safety 1st and IS-BAH status for ground service operators around the country.
- Sharpen business processes— Edwards Deming once commented that, if you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing. While that might be a bit of an overstatement, there is a lot of truth to the quote. Knowing our processes inside and out allows us to streamline training, minimize ineffective procedures and checklists, and focus on delivery of consistent performance. A lot of companies question whether another audit is simply going to add to an already bloated set of manuals, policies, and procedures. The overwhelming majority of operators that go through the registration process report that a better handle on their processes allowed them to get rid of outdated or ineffective manuals in favor of streamlined guidance that better represents their operational mission and exposure.
- Help ensure regulatory compliance—although ISBAH is not an exercise in compliance (remember, the focus here is on performance), the standard does require that operators demonstrate effectiveness of business processes that incorporate regulatory requirements as well as information from other, non-compulsory sources. By creating a structured mechanism for monitoring regulatory requirements, many operators report that their systems have improved compliance while reducing errors or lapses because of outdated and reactive methods. As regulators continue to move forward with proposed rulemaking for airports that requires demonstration of safety management systems, many FBOs will likely be required to show their own safety management practices are effective as a condition of doing business on a Part 139 airport.
- Give your firm a competitive edge—Over the years, I’ve heard many say that they don’t compete on safety. I don’t believe that is true. I am more than happy to share everything I know about the science of safety, but when it comes to my firm, being the best at understanding risk and making decisions on that basis is absolutely a strategic advantage. To be clear, I advocate wholeheartedly for data sharing and an open book on policies and procedures. What the highest-performing companies in all lines of business do best with respect to safety, though, is to understand risk more thoroughly, mitigate it more effectively, and use their knowledge of safety-centric management tools to make better business decisions with fewer missteps. All of that provides a clear competitive edge, and IS-BAH incorporates a number of processes that can help get you there.
- Strengthen your marketing pitch—Every operator’s audit experience is different, but in conducting several audits across a diverse group of organizations, I have never been through debriefing with an operator who didn’t feel that the journey was worth it. Though companies are very pleased with the organizational improvements they realized throughout the process, one of the things they most look forward to is the ability to market their IS-BAH registration. Achieving registration is a time-consuming undertaking, and it changes the way you do business—for the better. You should be proud in the knowledge that you’ve chosen to do something that many don’t view as necessary. Adding the IS-BAH logo to your marketing materials, and highlighting your registration as part of your company’s strengths is a great way to continue the benefits of the IS-BAH process. For smaller FBOs and ground service providers, working harder to prove your company against larger or more established competitors is nothing new. IS-BAH can help by inspiring confidence—within and outside your organization—in your business processes, and by providing a standard measure by which you can establish yourself in an extremely competitive marketplace. Importantly for your bottom line, the IS-BAH can drive down costs, boost productivity and improve profits; and, it is likely to be more cost-effective than you think. For FBOs and service providers of all sizes, the IS-BAH is a recognizable standard that allows you to demonstrate your ability to seamlessly integrate with your customers’ safety management systems.
The IS-BAH provides a practical framework for FBOs and business aircraft handling agents to examine, review, and continually improve any area of operation. You can implement the best practices of the standard informally or achieve registration by using an IBAC accredited independent, third-party auditor. Registration provides independent proof to all stakeholders that you are meeting or exceeding best practices for operational and safety performance. However you approach the IS-BAH, it can provide solid benefits for FBOs and ground service providers of all types. Most importantly, the IS-BAH establishes a path for growing your business sustainably, managing safety proactively, and maximizing profits through better process understanding—all of which are key elements to competing in the aviation marketplace. To learn more about the IS-BAH standard, contact the author, reach out to your NATA team, or visit www.ibac.org directly for up-to-date details about the standard.