Article published in World Aircraft Sales Magazine
Have you considered that your actions in the initial hours following a serious aircraft accident may well determine the survival of your flight department?With this in mind, what is your next move? Assuming you have done everything right, Directors still cannot put their heads in the sand and ignore the fact that as safe as corporate aviation is, the company may one day face the news that its aircraft has been involved in an accident.
In past articles, we emphasized that a company utilizing the advantages of Business Aviation is exposed to large liability claims and that it is the responsibility of Directors to protect shareholder assets by insisting upon effective policies related to business aircraft. We have reviewed the need for a strong offensive strategy in the form of risk management measures, including recurrent pilot training and buy-in of a safety culture at the executive level. We’ve also discussed defensive strategies, namely setting up your aviation insurance program properly.
I was speaking to the chief pilot of a corporate flight department who had the unfortunate experience of receiving notification that one of their aircraft had been involved in an accident and was destroyed. He recalled that the media called and shortly thereafter arrived at the hangar door asking lots of questions. Family members of passengers also called and arrived at the office demanding information.
In addition, first responders, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wanted to speak • with someone at the company to confirm details of who was on the flight. In short, it was chaos.
Fortunately this chief pilot’s flight department previously had taken the time to create an Emergency Response Plan that, even though not perfect, was an immense help. In it, the department determined who would speak for the company. The plan contained a written statement addressing first and foremost concern for the families involved, followed by the company’s high safety standards for the aircraft and pilots, and the company’s intention to cooperate fully with authorities.
Aircraft accidents make headlines, and the media doesn’t always call your public relations staff for comment. More likely than not, reporters will show up at the accident scene and demand information from anyone representing the company. Or they may simply call the receptionist and ask for comment. Has the receptionist been briefed on how to handle that potential call? Regardless of the facts, reporters will perceive “No comment” as a cover-up.
Make sure that your representative has the company’s written statement, and make certain not to release unverified facts or speculate in any way. Such actions will come back to haunt you.
Dealing with bereaved relatives is by far the most unpleasant task, and one your staff is probably the least prepared to handle. It’s unlikely you have psychologists or counselors on call, so often the task falls on those employees or executives the least qualified to deal with the trauma. Whose job is it to notify the families of the victims?
Fortunately there are resources available to help the corporate aircraft owner. Many aviation insurance companies post sample Emergency Response Plan (ERP) templates on their websites. There are also specialists in the field of ERP development. Depending on the size of your flight department, your insurer may be willing to send their expert in ERP to assist you in creating a plan, or help you improve or test the one you have in place. Your aviation insurance broker should also be able to provide guidance.
Periodic testing is imperative since phone numbers, procedures and personnel change. Discover the bottlenecks by doing annual mock drills. How are phone calls that come in after normal business hours handled? Who has a list of the passengers on the airplane? Imagine a scenario in which the flight department manager who developed the plan was on the aircraft at the time of the accident. Who takes charge then?
Several insurance companies have begun including family assistance coverage under their policies. This coverage typically pays for the transportation of family members to and from the site of the accident, lodging near the site of the accident and grief counseling. Lean on your insurance company adjusters – they have been through this before and know the process well.
If you’ve already created an Emergency Response Plan and don’t perform at least an annual mock-run, commit to such training going forward. If you don’t have an Emergency Response Plan in place, begin the process now.
Hopefully the ERP will be something you never have to execute in reality, but you’ll appreciate such planning in the event that you do. Well-run flight departments are prepared. Is yours?