On Wednesday and Friday of last week , we shared with you the importance of safety in aviation operations, which (let’s be honest) is a little like sharing the importance of using seat belts in automobiles – it’s something you already know, at least subconsciously. The question that logically follows is: how do I tell if an operator is safe?
When you walk into the terminal at Kansas City International Airport to buy a ticket, you can chose from the Delta, United, American or Frontier ticket counters. You base your purchase on price, route structure and, maybe, frequent flyer miles; but, you get pretty much the same level of safety with each carrier. The FAA enforces a baseline level of safety among all carriers - scheduled or unscheduled. When choosing a charter operator, you want more than baseline safety practices and there are operators who provide it. so, how do you pick those operators out of the thousands currently operating in the US?
Enter aviation auditing firms. The two largest are the Aviation Research Group / U.S., Inc. and Wyvern, Ltd. As a potential client, you may contact one of the firms to vet the safety practices of an operator whose services interest you. The auditing firm then descends upon the operator and inspects their processes, procedures and practices. Auditing firm inspectors are aviation professionals with decades of experience in aircraft maintenance and operations, or in government oversight with the FAA or NTSB. When they inspect an operation, they leave no stone unturned. Based on their findings, they either issue a rating to the operator or give the operator an action list which must be completed to earn a rating. ARG/US has a three-tiered rating system – Gold, Gold Plus and Platinum – and offers a Trip Cheq service you can use to look at your carrier a little more closely. Wyvern offers a single rating called simply a recommendation - the operator either passes or fails. They also offer a Pass Ready service for a closer look. Each auditing firm offers more operator ratings reports on their websites.
Now, just because an operator doesn’t hold one of these ratings doesn’t necessarily mean that the operation is less safe than the next guy. Perhaps the unrated operator hasn’t had a client who required one of those audits. If an operator does not hold one of these ratings, you can ask them for their FAA issued operating certificate number. You can contact the NTSB to check that certificate number for any incidents or accidents associated with it. If your operator cannot supply a certificate number, they may not be an FAA certified charter operator. They may be a charter broker, who is roughly the charter equivalent of travel agents to mass air transit. Your charter broker should be able to procure the certificate number of the operator whose services they have secured on your behalf. An unwillingness or inability to provide a certificate number or a history of instability in management are giant red flags. In either case, you really need to start asking questions or looking for another provider.
As of November 6, 2009, there are about 2,231 certificated US aircraft charter operators. Of them, 278 hold ARG/US Gold status, 30 hold ARG/US Gold Plus status, and 71 hold ARG/US Platinum status. 372 operators are Pass Ready at Wyvern with 97 holding Wyvern Recommendations. These numbers change constantly; so, be sure to check those websites for today’s numbers. There are some operators who have held high ratings for several auditing procedures. If your operator is one of them, that is a good indication of the consistent solid safety practices you want in the operator you trust with yourself, your family or your board of directors.