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The following statements from Bloomberg Business Week, Nov. 30 are attention getters and serve to remind us of the importance of sound safety oversight.

“More people have died in crashes on government aircraft, which are exempt from most U.S. safety regulations, than on commercial airliners over the past five years, the first time that’s happened over a similar span.”

“U.S., state and local government agencies operate or hire hundreds of helicopters, single-engine planes and jets, according to National Transportation Safety Board records. These flights aren’t regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial and private flights.”

“While government agencies may impose their own safety rules and conduct inspections, standards vary and rules are sometimes not enforced, safety-board investigations have found.”

“Government agencies, many times, start out with sound procedures,” John Goglia a former safety board member said in an interview. “Over time, people don’t follow procedures and insufficient oversight prevents the slow deterioration of best practices from being picked up.”

“This has always been the black hole of aviation safety,” Jim Hall, a former safety-board chairman, said in an interview. “There is absolutely no reason that the government is not required to adhere to the same standards as everyone else in terms of aviation regulations.”

John Goglia also made the point that “Industry would never go as long as government without an audit to insure we are using best practices and following our own procedures.”

There is at least one government agency that I know is doing it right.

Although not required to do so, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operates and maintains a fleet of aircraft in accordance with Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 135, including the maintenance of their aircraft fleet to the high standards of a Continuous Airworthiness Maintenance Program (CAMP), which is also required and used by the civil air carrier industry. All maintenance and engineering services are accomplished in accordance with the policies, procedures, and guidelines required of similar civil and commercial sector activities. FAA also has a formal Internal Evaluation Program (IEP) and an oversight office that conducts external audits.

There are positive steps that operators can take today to ensure that their procedures are consistent with FAA policies, procedures and guidelines required of civil and commercial operators. It starts with an independent operational safety audit to determine the level of conformance with key operations, maintenance and safety department-related requirements and industry best practices.

When JDA performs these audits we start with an assessment of an operator’s manual system against the Internal Evaluation Program (IEP) checklist that we have developed for Part 135 carriers. Following completion of the Design Assessment, we then assess the actual performance of employees in order to determine whether the processes and procedures detailed in the manual system are being followed and are effective in practice. The end result is a set of recommendations related to industry best practices for improving the operation and manual suite. As SASO comes into play in 2013, the Design Attributes will need to be documented in their manuals against which actual performance will be assessed (Performance Attributes).

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