Training the Front Line

March 8, 2001

Training theFront Line

Signature invests in training, with a heavy helping of line services

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

March 2001

ORLANDO — During its almost decade in existence, the Signature Flight Support chain of FBOs has consistently invested in upgrading its management/employee training programs. Recently, Kim Noyes and Brian Poloniecki discussed the company’s latest effort: safety, focusing on line service activities.

Signature’s initiatives have included a management training program in association with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and a comprehensive environmental/hazardous waste management curriculum.
Following is an edited transcript of the interview with Noyes, Signa-ture’s director of training and development, and Poloniecki, director of health, safety, and environment, conducted by AIRPORT BUSINESS at Signature’s corporate headquarters.
AIRPORT BUSINESS: Brian, having worked with ground safety in the Air Force, do you find significant differences between how the government and the private sector approach safety and line services?
Brian: One of the things that I found different between the private sector and government was, in goverment a lot of resources are put toward safety, not just on aircraft while they’re flying but while they’re on the ground. And when I came over to the private sector with the airlines and the ground handling companies, I didn’t find as much emphasis on ground safety in aviation. Everything dealt with the airplanes in the air, not focusing on the losses and the damages and the injuries that occur when an aircraft is on the ground.
Well, most of our dealings with aircraft are on the ground. So our opportunities are there. We wanted a program that was going to protect our people and our customers, focusing on the ground safety issues.
We went back and (reviewed) our health, safety, and environmental programs, which work hand in hand with the professional service training (program). They reference each other back and forth. We were trying to create (an attitude) that safety is not something separate from what you’re doing — it is what you’re doing.
With safety you’ll get the service; with safety you’ll get the quality; with safety you’ll get the on-time performances.
AB: What are some of the other components of the program related to safety?
Brian: We also have behavorial-based safety, behavorial risk improvement — through positive reinforcement and coaching skills, getting employees to do the right thing as opposed to reprimanding them.
AB: The rapid growth of business aviation has really brought home the cost of hangar rash. Some corporate pilots are saying they’d rather pay a ramp fee than have an FBO handle their aircraft. Thoughts?
Brian: It’s a message the insurance companies have been trying to get out: Somebody else might be paying for it, but everybody’s going to lose. Number one (to pilots), that is your aircraft — make sure it is being treated the way you want it to be treated. Don’t just park it and assume that everybody’s going to do the right thing. Our people do not mind at all if somebody says, ’This is exactly what I want you to do with my airplane. This is what I don’t want done.’
Kim: I know in Nashville now they won’t tow without pilot assistance. And when they come in they’re saying, it’s not that we don’t want to service you but we want to service you better. There’s a slope on our ramp and a reason why we do it.
Brian: There are hazards associated with the environment in which we work — it could be the terrain; it could be the size of the facility. It’s much easier if the owners of the property are involved.
The pilots are receptive. In Nashville, at first we thought there would be a lot of negative repercussions by asking the pilots to participate because it was one of the first places that we did it. The response has been positive; they don’t have a problem. The towing of an aircraft is one of the highest opportunities for something to occur. When you have a $50 million piece of equipment that has to be moved around, everything has to work right.
Kim: Brian holds weekly conference calls where they’re all on the call. Last year, Brian (developed) an intranet web page for our safety people to go on and share information, use chat rooms, collect information.
I think we’re reaching a point that our culture feels empowered to start taking initiatives to make it safer, to make it a higher quality product and service.
Brian: When somebody puts in a policy of safety first — well, I don’t know what that means. Is that safety before you provide service to the customers? Safety before you make an operating profit? What business are you in? Safety should not be something separate — it needs to be part of what you’re doing. It’s included with the equipment that we purchase; it’s included in the procedures that we develop; it’s included in the development of our facilities.
What is safety? It’s not just the occupational safety of our employees. It’s the safety of our customers, and our visitors, and their property.
When you leave a $50 million piece of property at a facility, you should know what’s going to happen to it while you’re staying overnight at a hotel. Just because the door is locked doesn’t mean that piece of property is safe.
It’s very important that the FBO, wherever it is, has the capability to contact the crew 24 hours a day. If for some reason an aircraft has to be moved and there’s an issue with the movement of that aircraft, they need to get ahold of that crew to do it. For example, a direct order was given that this is a no-tow aircraft, but you have a customer that wasn’t supposed to go anywhere, all of a sudden needs to go, and they’re behind that aircraft. They need to get in touch with that crew.
Everybody has a responsibility.
We worked with NATA to develop their Safety First program.
We benchmarked the military is what we did. We’ve got computer-based training to help get our people on the ramp up as quickly as possible.
AB: A common lament one hears among managers today is that the incoming generation doesn’t have the same priorities on the job. Do you find any disparities?
Brian: As you look throughout all of our training manuals the one thing they all start out with is, What’s in it for me? What does this job mean to me? I think you quickly learn/identify those employees who don’t really care about what they’re doing. The other side is, especially within the FBO industry, the people out there on the line have a love for aviation.
Kim: You’re talking about generation X and generation Y, and their culture and their loyalty is different. We’re trying to educate our trainers on what motivates them, because what motivated you or me doesn’t motivate them. It doesn’t mean that they’re not good employees, there are just different motivational methods.
It’s interesting; our trainers run the gamut from some very seasoned to some very young trainers.
Brian: We require the use of action plans, especially within safety. The action plans are created at the bases ... by the safety folks, by the management team, by the employees.
Things in an action plan, for example, might be creating a tow policy. Location-specific, taking into account the equipment; taking into account the environment.