IS-BAH Marks 10 Years of Setting Safety Standards

March 12, 2024
The International Business Aviation Council's program brought SMS to ground handling and set standards for business aircraft handling.

Ten years ago, the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) sought to help business and general aviation ground handling service providers (GHSPs) answer an important question.

If you could make changes to improve the safety of your operations, what would those changes be?

IBAC, representing the interests of business aviation worldwide, launched the International Standard for Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH) in 2014.

Nearly a decade later, the program celebrated surpassing 300 IS-BAH registered locations in November 2023. As of January 2024, 307 ground handling organizations have voluntarily achieved IS-BAH Stage 1 registration.

The IS-BAH program, which was developed in collaboration with NATA (National Air Transportation Association), follows IBAC’s International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) principles, offering a professional code of practice and a safety management system (SMS) as the foundation.

“IS-BAH was the first industry standard to bring the SMS concept to ground handling,” IBAC director general Kurt Edwards said in a news release celebrating the 300th IS-BAH location.

“If you are not managing safety effectively, then you are just hoping that luck will be on your side. Safety must be the core focus of what we all do in this industry. Good safety management is establishing the presence of defenses that can stop the bad things from happening,” adds Terry Yeomans, IS-BAH program director at IBAC.

To earn IS-BAH registration, an FBO must undergo a rigorous multi-stage external audit by an IBAC-accredited auditor of its SMS, emergency procedures, organizational structure, administrative elements, security procedures, training protocols and operating procedures.

According to Yeomans, the IS-BAH program allows industry best practices to be blended through “a progressive SMS.” “Each organization is able to build on their foundations at each stage and progressively increase the effectiveness of the safety management efforts. The SMS works on the same PDCA (plan, do, check, act) principles for quality management by constantly improving the scope and reach of the safety outputs,” he says.

The SMS is not “one size fits all” and can be scaled to the size and nature of GHSPs, including fixed-base operators and business aircraft handling agencies.

“The misconception is that scaling means missing – or eliminating – one or more of the SMS components / elements. This is not the case. Scalability is achieved by the variability of the GHSP operations. It allows the GHSP to focus on what is important to them in terms of safety performance and targets which may differ from the ‘guys next door,’” he says. 



When IS-BAO was launched in 2002 as the standard for flight operations, there was significant buy-in from the industry at the outset. However, IS-BAH founders weren’t initially sure how the ground handling program would be received by the industry.

“We are very pleased with how the industry is taking the lead on what was a totally new and completely voluntary concept,” Yeomans says.

IS-BAH Stage 1 registration confirms that an organization’s SMS infrastructure is established and that safety management activities are appropriately targeted. Having SMS mandated in IS-BAH from its inception, Yeomans says it shows that the sector is serious about safety.

“Regulation is coming to ground handling, we can’t ignore that fact any longer. The IS-BAH is a valuable tool that can help meet proposed regulatory requirements, it’s up to the industry to see the value, and many already have,” he says.

IS-BAH Stage 2 ensures that safety management activities are appropriately targeted and that safety risks are being effectively managed. IS-BAH Stage 3 verifies that safety management activities are fully integrated into the operator's business and that a positive safety culture is being sustained.

In all, 202 locations have met Stage 2 and 28 have met Stage 3 requirements.

Other IS-BAH successes, according to Yeomans, include helping the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with the development of the ICAO Manual on Ground Handling (Doc 10121), which he says demonstrates that the business aviation/general aviation sector is ready to take the lead and develop international standards.

“We have been very vocal in ensuring the differing needs and operating practices of the general aviation/business aviation sector are understood, and that the standards and recommended practices being developed are achievable for us to remain compliant,” Yeomans says.

In addition to the ICAO Ground Handling Task Force, IBAC has been involved in the EASA Rulemaking Task Force industry expert group at all stages of the rulemaking development.

According to Yeomans, the biggest challenge to IS-BAH is the belief by some that zero accidents means they are safe.

“To some operators, cheap fuel always trumps safety when choosing a ground handler. To a small minority of ground handlers, the cost of ‘lounge flowers’ is more important than investment in safety,” he says.

Another challenge during IS-BAH’s first 10 years was the COVID-19 pandemic. However, from the start, IS-BAH included a section on disease control.

“From that point, we didn’t need to change anything in the standard itself to address COVID. We changed the way we operated by offering virtual workshops and introducing remote auditing options. We, the organizations, and the auditors adapted. Many organizations said that their recovery from COVID was helped by the management systems developed with implementing the IS-BAH and SMS structure,” Yeomans says.

ABS Jets Prague was among those who participated in a remote audit in 2020, becoming the first European FBO to receive IS-BAH Stage 3 certification. Then, after becoming a full-service provider at Airport Bratislava in 2020, earned Stage 1 certification for its Bratislava location.

“The ABS Jets Team is rigorously continuing to build on the safety culture already in place. Indeed, we will keep investing in safety and risk management to prove our commitment to clients, employees, partners and shareholders,” ABS Jets director of ground operations Michal Pazourek said after ABS Jets earned registration for its Bratislava location.

According to Yeomans, standards and safety remain a vital focus for the ground handling sector.

“The reality is that safety and standards have always been in the forefront of this industry.  The regulators are the ones that are now catching up with the forward thinking of this amazing industry sector,” he says.

A decade later, Yeomans says IS-BAH remains a unique and industry leading tool, not for profit, voluntary, and developed for the industry, by the industry.

“It is a success thanks to the 307 locations that took a huge leap of faith to be different, to show they wanted to make their staff, customers and vendors safe. To be recognized for their safety efforts and be independently assessed to a third-party standard, because they wanted to, not because it was required,” he says.

“It does feel it was only last year the IS-BAH was being finalized on a cold and snowy day in D.C.,” he adds. “Many people claim to have been the authors of the IS-BAH, but for the select few who sat around a dining room table having been snowed in, they really made a difference that day, you all know who you are.”

Yeoman’s gratitude extends beyond the program’s founders.

“Thanks to all the wonderful industry individuals that make up the IS-BAH Standards Board members past and present, the IBAC member associations for hitting the ‘go’ button on developing a new industry standard and supporting it throughout, to all the IBAC staff in the background doing all the work we all benefit from and finally, to all the future organizations that take the same leap of faith to make our industry safer for all,” he says.

For ground service providers and FBOs that are not IS-BAH registered, Yeomans stresses IS-BAH adoption isn’t intricate.

“It’s only as complicated as you make it, less is sometimes more,” he says.