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How a global pandemic can illuminate the value of an SMS

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By Bryan Burns
President, Air Charter Safety Foundation

The Covid-19 pandemic has instilled enhanced safety protocols, especially in the aviation industry, where highest standards are expected.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a great teacher. In aviation, we’ve learned to adapt to challenging circumstances, collaborate industry-wide, and enhance our communication. And yes, we’ve learned to sanitize to keep everyone safe on their travel journey.

To help explain more of what Covid-19 has taught us about safety and service, I spoke with Todd Weeber, vice chairman at the Air Charter Safety Foundation. Todd is also COO of Magellan Jets, which provides solutions for jet card owners, pay-as-you-go members, and on-demand charter clients. Here’s what he explained:

Q. How has Covid-19 ushered in new safety protocols?
A. Business aviation customers have always expected a safe, clean, on-time aircraft with correct catering. A safe travel experience was assumed.

Covid-19 has not changed that aspect, but what it has revealed is who has a strong safety management system (SMS) and who doesn’t. A big lesson from Covid-19 is how much a “just culture” can pay dividends. If you invest in an SMS, you will attract more passengers.

Q. How has SMS affected your success amid Covid-19?
A. In the beginning, travelers were terrified of getting Covid, and we adjusted everything, including how we communicate. Overnight we went from a business aviation solution provider to a precision communications company.

We were like Disney cast members, ushering our customers through their travel experience with kid gloves. Business and private aviation already required a high-touch service experience. Now it’s ten-fold.

Q. How have you changed your communication?
A. A prime example is how our aircraft captains speak to the passengers at FBOs before they board. Captains will explain why they won’t wear masks during an emergency evacuation, and why pilots don’t wear masks in the cockpit.

This goes above and beyond the standard briefing before takeoff. Companies shouldn’t view social distancing, mask-wearing, hygiene, and cleanliness as service requirements. They are safety requirements. New charter users especially need to understand the ever-changing rules related to the pandemic.

It’s our job to keep everyone updated and feeling safe. And, if something goes wrong, we make things right. There is 100% correlation between service issues and safety issues. We empower everyone to view travel experiences through the eyes of the customer.

Q. How do SMS and service affect revenue?
A. When an organization unleashes the full benefits of an SMS, they can watch retention, reorders, and referrals increase. Here’s why: • An effective SMS improves the quality of each layer of safety.

This results in superior service and improved economics across any size operation.
• With an SMS standard, safety is not a differentiator which is for sale. Instead, safety becomes a type of organizational behavior that everyone can and should expect.

• Put a “just culture” into action and you’ll inspire more aviator-like behavior. Superior aviators are professionals who do what pilots can do, but they also place the security, safety, well-being, and satisfaction of crew and passengers above all.

Q. Sanitation is a critical safety issue. How do you address it with your supply chain?
A. When Covid-19 hit, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) established a task force to help the industry address Coronavirus-related safety issues.

At no other time in my career have I seen information sharing at this high a level. Why reinvent the wheel individually? In particular, the industry-wide adoption of NATA’s Safety 1st Clean Standard has been a game-changer across the supply chain.

FBOs in particular are seeing higher traffic because their clients feel safe. Accessible, scalable SMS for all As Todd Weeber so clearly articulates the message, great service and safety go hand-in-hand.

It’s important to remember that delivering the highest levels of safety and service is possible for any size operation. The tool, per se, doesn’t matter as much as the continuous culture and process improvements delivered by an excellent SMS.


Bryan Burns has served as president of the Air Charter Safety Foundation since 2010. A private pilot, Burns has spent 30+ years leading high-performing FBOs. He served as GM of Signature Flight Support DCA, Jackson Hole Aviation JAC, and Vail Valley Jet Center EGE.

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