Safety From the Ground Up: IS-BAH’s Mission for Safer Ground Operations the World Over

Dec. 19, 2019
With more than 200 locations achieving Stage 1 certification, IS-BAH adoption continues to grow rapidly.

Since its inception in July of 2014, the International Standard for Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH) has become an industry standard. The program, designed to “promote use of industry best practices blended through a progressive Safety Management System (SMS) for for ground handling service providers (GHSPs) for the business and general aviation sector, including fixed based operations (FBO) and business aircraft handling agencies (BAHA),” has been adopted the world over.

Terry Yeomans, program director of IS-BAH, says that, as of writing, the current figures show that 207 locations have achieved IS-BAH Stage 1, with 70 of those at Stage 2 and two more locations at Stage 3.

Each stage of IS-BAH builds upon the next. Stage 1 confirms that an SMS infrastructure has been adopted and that safety management procedures are being appropriately targeted.  Stage 2 ensures that the location’s safety management procedures are continuing and that any safety risks are being effectively identified and managed. Stage 3, then, verifies that the safety management procedures are fully integrated into the location’s operations and that they are being sustained. 

Yeomans says that he’s been pleased by the adoption of IS-BAH and the quick growth the program has seen since 2014. He adds that a large part of the willingness of FBOs to take on the program is thanks to the positive word of mouth from those already enrolled.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at the geographical spread of those who have now adopted through to registration the IS-BAH and the range from small, two persons, to the large networks and chains that employ hundreds. That’s what we had hoped for, but to see it this early in the program is a positive for all. It’s been helped by the willingness of the trailblazing FBOs – not only to support the management of safety in their operations, but to suggest their peers do the same,” Yeomans says.

Some of the common feedback that Yeomans says that he’s received from IS-BAH accredited locations are that while it can be tough when first adopting, it is ultimately more than worthwhile in the long run. Part of that can be, as Yeomans notes, due to a perceived overcomplication on the part of an FBO when developing and implementing an SMS.

“SMS is just organized common sense. The difficult bit is building trust in the system and realizing that sometimes you have to go back to go forwards more effectively. The SMICG manual ‘SMS for Small Operators’ is a good document to use for reference to start off,” Yeomans explains. “We always let people know that they should take their time and not rush it. Inch by inch is a cinch; yard by yard is hard.”

Seeing the Benefit 

ExecuJet, which manages 26 international FBOs on behalf of Luxaviation Group, has 11 IS-BAH accredited locations. Their Berlin FBO was the first German location to receive IS-BAH Stage 1 accreditation in 2015 and is currently Stage 2 accredited. In total, six of ExecuJet’s locations have become Stage 2 accredited – Brussels, Dubai International, Dubai South, Johannesburg, Zürich, as well as Berlin.

Ettore Poggi, president – fixed based operations, Luxaviation Group, says that they saw the benefit of the IS-BAH adoption soon after the program’s launch.

“We recognized the significance of IS-BAH very early on and identified it as an opportunity to further exhibit our commitment to exhibiting the highest standards in terms of safety and service,” Poggi says. “Since adopting the IS-BAH accreditation, we have directly seen an increase in safety awareness, a decrease in incidents and a number of commercial benefits, including operators opting to use IS-BAH certified locations.”

Another early adopter of IS-BAH, American Aero FTW achieved IS-BAH Stage 1 accreditation in February 2015, Stage 2 in February 2017 and Stage 3 in October of 2018. American Aero was the first FBO in the western hemisphere to make Stage 2 accreditation and the first in the world to achieve Stage 3.

From it’s first introduction in 2014, American Aero FTW saw IS-BAH as the new standard of safety and something worthwhile to pursue.

“When IS-BAH was first introduced in 2014, we understood that this was about establishing a rigorous new safety standard for ground handling. Our founder and management team understood the value and determined immediately that we would lead the industry in this effort,” says Angela Thurmond, general manager of American Aero FTW. “We knew we could achieve IS-BAH registration because American Aero already had a culture in place that constantly sought out ways to improve safety. While earning IS-BAH registration is a challenging process, we found it easier to adapt to the IS-BAH mentality because of our existing philosophy of constant improvement for the benefit of our customers.”

Affiliated with a corporate flight department that has achieved International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) Level 3 certification, American Aero received guidance from their affiliate when beginning the IS-BAH process.

“The affiliated flight department has traveled the world and experienced FBOs of all types. With that guidance, American Aero has adopted the best features of the best FBOs — and then raised them a notch,” Thurmond describes. “With help from its sponsoring flight department, American Aero did not hesitate to pursue IS-BAH certification when it was first introduced.”

Thurmond describes American Aero’s leap from Stage 2 to Stage 3 accreditation as a natural progression of the safe environment they provide for their customers and employees. Though to ensure they made the progression, American Aero followed four specific steps: Retooling and expanding their safety performance indicators; strengthening the relationship between their safety manager and their accountable executive; increasing their emergency response plan drills; and ensuring a “just culture.”

“The challenge to make the leap from Stage 2 to Stage 3 was to retool and expand our safety performance indicators, or SPIs, used to determine overall functionality of safety performance. We had to take 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,” Thurmond says.

“One of the main tenants of IS-BAH is a shared accountability. An organization that seeks to maintain a just culture and a positive work environment must hold itself accountable for any negative outcomes created by errors or oversight in the training it provides or in the systems and procedures it puts in place,” she continues. “Equally, its employees within that organization must be held accountable for following procedure and participating in the SMS. However, for this sharing of accountability to succeed, both parties must be careful in the assignment of blame for when things don’t go as planned or an accident or incident occurs. Everyone within the organization must be allowed to speak freely and honestly about something that went wrong in order to make corrections. At American Aero, we encourage our staff to report safety issues and mistakes that are committed by their superiors. This fosters the idea that anyone is capable of making a mistake, and anyone can bring it up for discussion for learning purposes, without fear of retribution.”

For ExecutJet, Poggi explains their multiple FBO locations and associated IS-BAH accreditations were an easy adoption when coupled with ExecuJet’s prior, self-implemented safety culture.

“ExecuJet already has a high standard of operating procedures in place with a company-wide safety management system and a ‘no blame’ incident reporting culture – IS-BAH has brought this all together in a recognizable form for all staff to take on board. We have our own IS-BAH accredited auditor who conducts internal inspections to enable ExecuJet to maintain our high standards and undertake third party audits for other FBOs. We view this as helping the industry as a whole to be safer,” Poggi says.

Poggi adds that they’re making plans for IS-BAH Stage 3 accreditation, but in the immediate are shoring up their Stage 2 accreditations and getting their new FBOs IS-BAH Stage 1 accredited.

“Stage 2 is a process of continuous improvement and in order to maintain this level of certification, continuous improvement must be demonstrated. Stage 3 is in planning phase and we will continue to access the benefits provided, but for the immediate future we will focus on continuous improvement and moving our new FBOs to Stage 1 and 2 accreditations,” explains Poggi.

Getting Started with IS-BAH

While the program has grown greater than expected, there are still locations without IS-BAH accreditation. As IS-BAH and its benefits have become more prolific, more and more operators are beginning to require IS-BAH accreditation to do business with an FBO, Yeomans says. That push along with the great word of mouth from participating FBOs is getting more FBOs involved with the program, but as Yeomans notes, where and how to begin can be tough. 

For operations looking to begin the IS-BAH process, Yeomans says that the best starting place is with an IS-BAH Workshop. The workshops go over the background and general information of IBAC and IS-BAH, implementing an SMS, as well as implementing and improving organization, training, standard operating procedures (SOPs), company operations manual, emergency response planning, environmental management, occupational health and safety, transportation of dangerous goods, security and the IS-BAH auditing process.

For locations looking to get started or currently seeking IS-BAH accreditation, and important step is keeping current with IS-BAH regulations and its supporting manuals. Web Manuals, a digital, cloud-based document management solution, offers 20 IS-BAH related documents as part of its digital library, with one IS-BAH client utilizing the service worldwide. 

“One of the keyways that Web Manuals can help an FBO become IS-BAH accredited is through its capacity as a safety and security enabler. For an FBO to be recognized with IS-BAH status, they must exhibit the highest practices and standards in safety management. Using Web Manuals’ document digitalization tool, users can keep important manuals up-to-date, ensuring they adhere to the very latest regulatory changes. Above all, digital manuals save customers valuable resources and ensure that operations are safe, efficient and compliant,” says Martin Lidgard, founder and CEO of Web Manuals.

Above all else, Yeomans stresses that an FBO should take IS-BAH piece by piece and that the importance is on safety first, not on wrangling the entire IS-BAH program at once.

“It’s tough thinking outside the box and working though the processes of their everyday operations, document what they do and where. The whole system is built on starting off small and continuously improving bit by bit,” says Yeomans.

“FBO customers may take ground handling safety for granted, but the truth is it can never be assumed,” Thurmond adds. “Safety is a byproduct of competencies. Achieving IS-BAH certification is about developing and demonstrating those competencies, yielding safer operations.”