American Aero’s Journey to IS-BAH Stage 3

April 15, 2019
The FBO in Fort Worth, Texas, became the world's first to attain the top-tier certification following extensive evaluation and improvement to its ground handling safety practices.

FBO customers may take safety for granted, but as ground handling professionals, we know safety should never be assumed.

According to a recently released report, the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) has documented more than 440 ground handling-related accidents worldwide over the last 18 months, with damages estimated at $6.8 million. More than half of those incidents occurred when an aircraft was parked at an FBO or under its control. 

At American Aero, an FBO serving Meacham International Airport in Fort Worth, TX, safety has always been an integral part of our culture, and that is reflected in our daily operations. It’s a commitment to customers that comes from the very top of the organization. That’s why, when IBAC introduced the International Standard for Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH) in 2014, American Aero founder Robert M. Bass and the management team were quick to get on board. They understood that establishing a new level of safety aligned well with our commitment to world-class customer service.

Since then, American Aero has led the industry in ground handling safety. In 2015, we became the first FBO in the Western Hemisphere to the earn IS-BAH Stage I registration. In 2017, we were one of the first to be awarded Stage II. In 2018, American Aero became the first FBO in the world to become Stage III certified. We don’t just adhere to best practices; we are setting the pace for the industry.

To date, out of an estimated 6,400 FBOs worldwide, only 160 have pursued IS-BAH at any level. It’s a rigorous and challenging process, even for an FBO committed to safety. But it is also a natural extension of the safety standards that private aviation travelers adhere to and demand in the sky. It offers our customers peace of mind to know that we make their safety and the safety of their assets a top priority and there is a significant cost savings to be had by avoiding accidents — both for an FBO and for its customers.

The IS-BAH Process

IS-BAH is a global, voluntary code of best practices for the FBO and business aviation handling agent (BAHA) communities, created for the industry, by the industry. It incorporates the safety management system (SMS) concept in all aspects of FBO/BAHA operations and is complementary with the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) used by their operator clients.

IS-BAH Stage I confirms that an FBO has an SMS infrastructure in place and that safety management activities are appropriately targeted. The next level, Stage II, ensures that safety risks are being effectively managed. Stage III is about demonstrating continuous improvement in evaluating safety performance indicators, verifying that safety management activities are fully integrated into an FBO’s business and demonstrating that a positive safety culture is being sustained.

Making the Leap

American Aero actively undertook the IS-BAH registration process because it demonstrates our commitment to unparalleled safety and service. We are also affiliated with a corporate flight department that has extremely high standards and is IS-BAO Level III certified. Those flight department pilots experience FBOs around the world, and their expertise has enabled American Aero to avoid shortcomings and adopt best practices.

To make our most recent leap from Stage II to Stage III certification, American Aero worked to expand safety performance indicators (SPIs) in order to evaluate the overall functionality of safety performance. We took a “deep dive” into years of data to match where our safety targets, alert levels and goals should be for an operation that has been measuring safety performance for five years. We also knew that progression to Stage III required that our SPIs reflect “continuous improvement” from the Stage II audit.

As part of that effort, American Aero increased emergency response plan drills. Emergency procedures must be put to the test so you can learn if they are still applicable to a constantly changing environment. It is also a good way to gauge how your people would react in an emergency.

Any organization seeking to maintain the IS-BAH standard must insist on quality in emergency procedures based on the size and scope of the operation. Part of that is how often you drill and what have you learned, changed or added from performing those drills. We also brought in a third-party manual service. Due to the constant change to standard operating procedures, we needed to streamline and publish new versions of our manual after each revision.

In addition, we continued our development of computer software to aid in tracking SPIs and risk assessments.

Organizational Changes

For a safety culture to exist, all levels of management must be involved, committed and accountable. That buy-in creates a strong pipeline for information. As preparation for a Stage III audit, American Aero strengthened the relationship between the safety manager and the accountable executive. We increased briefings and optimized the pipeline of safety information, which resulted in a more informed management structure and improved decision making.

Finally, we worked to ensure a “just culture.” One of the main tenants of IS-BAH is a shared accountability. Any organization that seeks to maintain a just culture must hold itself accountable for negative outcomes created by errors or oversight in the training it provides, or in the systems and procedures it puts in place.

Equally, employees within that organization must be held accountable for following procedure and participating in the SMS. It’s all about continuous improvement, and American Aero is 100 percent committed to that culture, from top to bottom.

Overcoming Challenges

There are many challenges that may face ground handlers around the world: the human element, operational inefficiencies, a lack of standardized procedures and less-than-ideal airport design, to name a few. There’s also the cost associated with providing an elevated safety culture, although the cost of not doing so can be far greater.

Ground handlers can better help operators identify hazards and mitigate risk by incorporating an SMS into all aspects of operations, as outlined in IS-BAH standards. Without an SMS, ground handlers are reactionary. With an SMS, ground handlers are proactive and can better prevent major incidents.

Customers of our FBO understand that we are proactive about their needs. We are constantly evaluating our efforts and asking ourselves how we can better serve the needs of our customers.

An Appreciable Difference

Since American Aero opened its doors in 2012, there has never been a major incident. That said, no operation is bullet proof. We are constantly measuring performance and looking for trends. We’re actively learning, actively modifying and proactively doing things to mitigate against potential risk.

While much of this is behind the scenes, our customers are noticing the difference. When they taxi to our FBO, they see a highly trained marshaller. They see two wing-walkers and notice that we double chock the plane when it is parked. They see a well-maintained and clean fuel truck.

Other FBOs might do some of these things, but our customers also notice the questions that we ask. And they feel the difference with every employee, because every single team member participates in maintaining our safety culture in some way. 

American Aero is proud to be the top-rated FBO at Fort Worth Meacham International Airport and among the top 5 percent of FBOs in the world. We attribute that recognition to exceptional customer service, employees committed to going above and beyond at every touchpoint, and unmatched facilities and amenities. But our customers also know we are committed to their safety, and the safety of their equipment. Our commitment to leading the industry in ground handling safety is a reflection of that.

Heath Barnett is safety officer at American Aero FTW, Fort Worth Meacham International Airport. He ensures all safety aspects at the FBO and has led American Aero’s IS-BAH certification efforts since 2016. Barnett holds a commercial multi-engine airplane rating and flies as co-pilot in the Learjet 45. He has served the aviation industry, in the air and on the ground, for nearly 20 years. He can be reached at [email protected].