Unfortunately, 2020 was a perfect demonstration of a major event grounding flight departments all over the world. As COVID-19 slowed aviation, pilots began flying less and less, or sometimes not at all. Restrictions to travel and social distancing requirements prevented crews from participating in regular training and proficiency checks, to the point where the FAA began allowing exemptions and extensions to recency, training, and medical requirements.
Lack of recency is an issue.
It wasn’t long into the pandemic that the industry started to realize that lack of recency could become a problem for pilots, and the data seems to support this idea.
A review of NASA reports for business aviation aircraft shows that the average reported flight crew hours within the last 90 days fell from 86.96 hours in 2019 to just 66.3 hours in 2020. In fact, almost 75% of the reports submitted in 2020 showed hours below the 2019 average.
What operators should be doing.
COVID-19 is likely not the last time departments could see disruptions to their flight schedules. Whether it’s a pandemic, natural disaster, or another event, here is what you can do to respond to and mitigate the risks associated with a lack of recency.
An event that affects recency is exactly the time to employ your SMS to its fullest. Keeping to the heart of SMS you want to be predictive and mitigate risks before incidents happen. To accomplish this you will use 5 primary SMS tools:
Safety Risk Profile
Assess how the situation may impact your entire flight department. Get an overview of all the areas you may need to address.
How might COVID-19 affect our flight procedures, scheduling, maintenance, routes, duty days, passenger procedures, etc.? Will our exposure to risk change as a result of the event?
Assess the risk associated with a particular activity. Discover areas where you need to take targeted mitigation actions.
How risky is a particular trip with a crew with little flight time in the last 90 days in addition to other factors the flight may have? How will we mitigate these added risks?
Document and mitigate risks associated from deviating from your normal standards. Track frequency of occurrence and mitigations for abnormal operations.
Request to deviate from standard recurrent training time intervals. Cross reference requests with hazard reports to monitor effectiveness of mitigations.
Plan changes to the flight department in a formalized way. Ensure you consider risks before implementation and following up on change for effectiveness.
How can we implement new aircraft servicing equipment to improve cabin and flight deck cleanliness into our operations in a safe and effective manner?
Hazard Report in your SMS
Record potential hazards before incidents occur or identify issues early. Catch, mitigate, and track risks before they become a problem.
The PIC almost crossed a runway without clearance. The SIC caught the mistake before it happened. The SIC forgot a callout on climb. What tool can we use to help refresh crewmember memory of callouts?
Remember, your team will only fill out these reports if you have created a safety culture where pilots feel that they will not be punished for bringing up risks and hazards. Of course, you have already done this so, as your team submits reports, monitor the key metrics and ensure mitigation actions are taken and followed up on.
You will need to select mitigations that are specific to the risks your department is facing as identified by the reports you complete above. When considering the risk of a particular trip or operation overall, if you can’t change the lack of recency then try to reduce the other factors that present risk.
For specific examples of key metrics and mitigations, check out the full guide in your ARC.
The faster you can respond, the better
Having a digital SMS will make it easier to gather, process, and analyze data about how an event is affecting your operation and personnel. The faster and easier you can make this process the sooner you can start implementing mitigations and reducing risks.
Here are a few key elements that a digital SMS solution should give you.
It should be easy for anyone to submit reports at any time. Safety Officers and Management should be automatically notified when reports require their attention.
Reporting is only useful if you can turn your data into metrics that can help you make decisions. Your system should automatically analyze the submitted data for you.
Your team is busy and constantly on the go. They should receive automatic notifications when something is due and should be able to work on tasks in a mobile environment.
After the corrective action and mitigations have been put into place, your system should be able to show you trends to ensure you are heading in the right direction.