Creating a workable ops manual

Many corporate flight depts are choosing to define procedures beyond Part 91 minimums using CEO-approved documents.

"We'd like to address passenger restrictions so that the top management team are not all flying together," says Spiger. "Duty hour questions continue to be fine tuned and we'd like to cover medical and defibrillator training."

Don't go overboard with your initial document and don't put anything in there that you're not prepared to stick with, advises Spiger. "If you say you'll do recurrent training every 6 months, and then only go once a year, you've violated your ops manual and you'll have no recourse, or defense, if something happens and your procedures are reviewed by FAA or your insurance provider."

A future ops manual amendment, Spiger says, will cover security planning as well as a checklist and chain-of-command reporting for emergency situations. Security is always the number one priority in questionable locations and passenger safety always comes first, but the current ops manual does not cover security procedures and practices. Spiger says, "In an emergency situation there should be formalized procedures on who to report to, the chain of command in place and checklists for notification processes."

Ops manual specifics

Key objectives in Spiger's ops manual include duty time and rest procedures, approval for going into shorter runways, CEO sign-off agreeing how aircraft will be operated, plus checklists and procedures itemized by phase of flight. This particular ops manual covers pilot hiring minimums, crew responsibilities, an approved list of charter vendors and even pilot meals, guidelines on giving blood and the importance of not talking with the media if an incident should occur. Biannual ops manual reviews, conducted by the director of aviation, manager of maintenance and other operational personnel are also stipulated.

Whether you're flying a smaller Cessna Citation or an Airbus A318 Elite (above), defining and committing to a set of operating procedures will maximize safety and instill best practices.

Spiger's ops manual incorporates minimum acceptable standards as set forth by the company. A CEO sign-off page, right up front, specifies that the pilot-in-command (PIC) has primary responsibility for the decision to delay, cancel or reroute a flight, land the aircraft immediately at the nearest airport or alternate, and to refuse boarding to any passenger whose condition or behavior may jeopardize the safety and comfort of other passengers and the crew.

Crew flight time is limited to 10 hours during a 24-hour period, except for international flights where this may be extended to 13 flying hours as long as crew duty time does not exceed 16-hour limits. Maximum domestic crew duty time--12 hours from takeoff to landing--may be extended to 14 hours with 6 hours of quality prone rest in a day room. No trip shall be scheduled for more than 6 flight legs during a 14-hour duty day. Minimum crew rest and off-duty times are specified prior to next flight with a minimum of 30 hours off, including 2 sleep cycles, following 7 consecutive duty days.

Spiger says a 13-hour international flying day, versus the 10-hour domestic flying limit, is justified by the fact that international ops involve fewer takeoffs and landings. While 2-crew flights operate comfortably from DAL to Western Europe or Hawaii, longer operations may involve augmented or repositioned crews.

"I prefer repositioning crews to augmenting," says Spiger. "An augmented crew may add a couple of extra hours to flight time, but it's a limited benefit, perhaps with the third crew member trying to sleep on the floor of the galley, and you end up with 3 tired crew. For a really long flight, we'll fly a repositioned crew first-class and give them a full rest cycle at destination before having them fly."

Flights are not conducted VFR, unless this becomes the only practical way of completing a flight, and no VFR flying will be done with a ceiling of less than 2000 ft and visibility less than 5 miles. Schedulers will not send a trip into an airport with less than a 5000-ft runway without approval of the trip captain or director of aviation. Normal fuel reserves are specified as 3000 lbs for the Challenger and 1200 lbs for the Learjet 45.

Checklists (written or electronic) must be used with the "challenge-action-response" system. Spiger's ops manual also specifies that the PIC personally determine that all covers and gear pins have been removed and stowed prior to starting engines. And, while away from home base, the PIC or his designee supervises all fueling and ascertains that all fluid caps are properly secured. Except for flights to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean, completion of a formally approved international procedures training course is required for the PIC. To ensure maximum safety, loading of waypoint data is always a 2-person job, with one pilot entering data and the other confirming it against the flightplan.

Harley-Davidson Aviation Travel Coordinator Becky Dennis schedules crew duty days and destination airports based on company flight department ops manual guidelines.

If a pilot has been off flying duty because of sickness or accident for more than 2 weeks, the pilot shall undergo a medical examination before returning to flight duty. Use of alcoholic beverages by crewmembers on duty or within 10 hrs prior to scheduled flight shall be cause for immediate dismissal.

PIC qualifications include a minimum 5000 hrs flying time including 2000 hrs PIC and 1000 hrs in multiengine aircraft. A pilot must have a minimum of 500 hrs as pilot of a multiengine aircraft during the past 2 years with 250 hours in type prior to upgrading from first officer to captain.


If you talk to 10 different corporate pilots they'll all have different company operating procedures and duty limits. Some crews have virtually no duty limits and have been known to fly 22 to 24-hour duty days, with the last few hours of such operations potentially unsafe. Some years ago Pro Pilot ran across a Colorado-based flight department which would lob Learjet 36s to London, allow the 2-pilot crew a few hours' rest, staying in the cabin of their aircraft, then have them fly back to Colorado. This is not an ideal situation, and this operator, perhaps needless to say, did not have a formal company ops manual in place.

"There are individuals who will hound and push flightcrews to go beyond acceptable limits," says Spiger. "A defined ops manual enhances safety and eliminates unnecessary risk, but you'll need to sell the concept correctly to the CEO and upper management. Don't focus on limitations, and what the ops manual will not allow you to do, but on the fact it will improve operational safety while not necessarily detracting from flexibility of operations.

"It's often a mystery to company management as to what goes on at the airport and within the corporate flight department. Flight department longevity is protected through education and letting people know what you do. Principals need to have a working understanding of the flight department and its goals. If it's sold correctly, any reasonable CEO is going to appreciate the need to have a set of standards which include commitments to both excellence in service and safety of operations."

Editor-at-Large Grant McLaren has written for Pro Pilot for over 20 years and specializes in corporate flight department coverage.




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