Instilling a Training Regimen: At TAC Air, growth brought new challenges and a comprehensive solution

Nov. 8, 2004

Fueling/Line OPS/Safety

Instilling a Training Regimen

At TAC Air, growth brought new challenges and a comprehensive solution

By John Infanger

November/December 2004

TEXARKANA, AR — TAC Air, a division of the $1.5 billion TrumanArnold Companies, started in the business with fixed base operations atsmaller airports. As it grew through acquisitions, however, the companysaw an increasing need for a comprehensive, coordinated training programfor operations, safety, and management. And, as it expanded onto commercial and more corporate airports, its liability exposure increased. Here are some of the steps TAC Air has taken in recent years to make its employees more efficient, safer, and to give them opportunities for growth.

Explains TAC Air president Greg Arnold, “With one or two locations you can train and handle the safety aspect kind of on a one-on-one basis. It’s easier to do.

“Also, as we got into bigger markets, we saw accident frequency increase. There’s nothing that runs a customer off quicker than dings to his airplane. It’s a bad experience.”

The first significant step, he recalls, was implementing the ARGI/AMR Combs series of video training, which has subsequently become an integral part of the Safety 1st program offered by the National Air Transportation Association. The next step was an incentive program for all employees at all ten locations.

“Such a program needs to be fairly frequent,” says Arnold. “So we decided to do it every 30 days. It’s something tangible, and after taxes each person gets about a hundred dollar bill” if there are no cost-inducing incidents on ramps or in the hangars. “I’d much prefer to give that money to our people than be spending it on dinged aircraft.”

Two other critical components of the training initiative at TAC Air, says Arnold, are full-time training and safety directors, both based at the headquarters FBO in Texarkana.

Click Image for larger view
TAC-Air's director of safety Oscar Flowers has found that careful tracking of all aircraft accidents and incidents can help reduce the chance of a recurrence. Each incident is documented and shared with each of ten FBO locations, and then discussed at monthly safety meetings. Each location is responsible for making recommendations on how to avoid a similar incident, and all recommendations are shared with all locations, explains Flowers.

Tracking the Safety Aspect
As the company has increased its focus on more thorough training, explains Arnold, it has learned the value of tracking incidents as they happen. The data, he says, help identify potential weaknesses in operations, to identify trends, and are useful in discussions at monthly safety meetings.

Says Arnold, “We started tracking, comparing location by location. What kind of day was it? Was the individual involved up all night? What was the weather? The lighting? Did we have wing walkers? We track that on every incident and go back and use that information to train at our monthly safety meetings. That gives our people education.”

Jerry Cobb

Oscar Flowers

Jerry Cobb, director of training, adds that another “big moment” came when the decision was made to have a dedicated training supervisor at each FBO, no matter what the size, although at the smallest operations the person generally wears at least one other hat. “We wanted a person who is dedicated, responsible, and accountable for performance related to our safety program,” explains Cobb. “If you’re going to add people, the key is to have them be immediately productive. Taking a little longer look at performance was a tougher sell.

“However, it allowed us a little bit of flexibility on where we go next. What do we focus on next? That led to us talking about the type of people we bring on board. Are they the right mix? Do they fit with what we're trying to do?”

In an effort to better pre-screen job applicants, the company developed a video that asked employees at the various locations to basically talk the potential new hires out of it.

Explains Cobb, “So, we hear about the two feet of snow at night and sitting in the bucket of a deicing truck. Literally, what we find is, we’ll run an ad in the paper and 50 people will show up. We show the video and we end up with seven or eight. It’s extremely effective.”

Lessons Learned
Oscar Flowers, director of safety for the FBO chain, is the man responsible for safety tracking and then disseminating that information. Among the reports coming monthly from each base are an accident report, safety report, and disciplinarian report.

“One thing I do that’s had an impact is a recap of every accident that comes in. I send it to each location; they present it at their next safety meeting and discuss it. They come up with their own recommendations on how they can prevent a recurrence. Then in turn send those back to me and I take all ten bases’ recommendations, compile them, and send them back.”

A few specific examples of how tracking has impacted operations, according to Flowers:

  • Tracking identified that there was an inordinate amount of incidents around shift change time. Being aware of the problem and focusing employees on it has resulted in a 65 percent reduction over the past 12-18 months.
  • Three years ago tracking showed that some 85 percent of all incidents involved aircraft damage, and the biggest problem was not on the ramp but in the hangars. “We put in place what we call delineator posts,” explains Flowers. “It’s a 42-inch cone that we mount on a 12-pound base. We put one two feet out from each wingtip; one two feet out from the nose. No part of an aircraft can overlap any other part of another aircraft.”

Initially, he says, the GMs resisted the change, fearing a loss of storage space.

“No one had to move anyone out,” recalls Flowers. “They just had to be a little more creative when stacking the hangars and positioning the aircraft. We implemented that three years ago. I did some tracking prior to the implementation; we had a significant number of hangar rash incidents over 18 months. Since that time, we’ve had maybe three incidents of hangar rash in three years.”

  • Another trend brought out by tracking was that more incidents were happening on Monday morning and Friday evening, due primarily to the higher amount of business travelers at those times. Increasing staff levels during those times at all locations alleviated the problem