You have a long career in aviation. How did you become interested in flying jets?
When I was 15 years old, I had the opportunity to go on a flight in a small piston twin engine while taking food to a family member who was on a yacht that was delayed due to weather. The pilot let me try flying on the way home and that was all it took. I told my parents I wanted to be a pilot and they supported my flying lessons; I have been in the industry ever since. I moved to the USA from Australia when I was 18 and converted my certificates to US equivalents. I flew for an individual for a few years before joining a commuter airline, then a fractional operator before moving to FlightSafety International in 2020.
What made you make the transition from piloting to education on safety?
Flying is rewarding in that you get instant feedback on your performance, but it is only as good as your memory of as many flights as you can recall. Additionally, precision and ensuring good safety margins has always been a high focus for me. Working in safety, and more specifically, using data, allows trends and opportunities to enhance safety margins to be identified. Having worked in both training delivery and safety, it became apparent that most pilots don’t have access to the ‘big picture’ that data provides but want to understand where these opportunities exist and how they can improve their performance. Additionally, the root cause aspect of incident and accident investigation was always fascinating as they are frequently surprisingly different from the initial impressions. When the opportunity was presented to join FlightSafety and have the ability to influence the industry by sharing these concepts, it was an easy decision.
Knowing that action without clear direction represents potential risk, after joining FlightSafety, it made sense to obtain access to good industry data to ensure that we were focusing on the right safety risk areas in training rather than just regulatory requirements. The collaboration we have with GE Digital to share the insights provided by their corporate flight operations quality assurance program with our clients is incredibly powerful.
Other than the obvious, why is safety in aviation so important, and what does it entail?
Like most things, aviation is not without risk, but the risks are controllable. Of course, the consequences of lack of preparation, fundamental skills, or awareness can be devastating. To complicate matters, the reliability and redundancy in today’s aircraft is incredibly high, which is a double-edged sword. The positive is crews are far less likely to encounter a serious situation in flight. The negative of this is that it can breed complacency.
Preparation is the antidote for complacency, and when crewmembers train and are prepared to deal with the unlikely, they are ready should it actually occur
The good news is that preparation is the antidote for complacency, and when crewmembers train and are prepared to deal with the unlikely, they are ready should it actually occur. For this reason, crewmembers need to view training as a safety event, not a regulatory one. Unfortunately, many view training as a regulatory requirement rather than an opportunity to enhance skills. The different approaches are very obvious, and the crewmembers enjoy the training more.
Similarly, operators and employers should view training as a safety event that meets the regulatory requirements as well. When this happens, the results can be incredible. For example, we have a case study where a law enforcement pilot and tactical flight officer survived an inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions at the end of 2020 as a result of training together in the simulator. Clearly there is no regulatory requirement for the tactical flight officer to participate in simulator training, but it made the difference for their lives, and their families’ lives just a few weeks after the training was complete.
How do you bring your experience to your work as Executive Vice President of Operations and Safety?
My career has allowed me to experience various types of flight operations including corporate, regional airlines and fractional operations, and I have had the luxury of flying aircraft at both ends of the technology and sophistication spectrum. The ability to fly while also leading a safety team provided a whole new perspective as you look at the operation through a different lens, specifically, how to reduce risk without inhibiting efficiency.
The clients we train are operating aircraft on the same spectrum of sophistication and carry the most precious cargo there is. A significant aspect of my job is to ensure we provide our team with the resources to deliver the highest quality training to address industry trends and hazards. Of course, when you work with a team of people who share a passion for making a difference, it is easy to come to work every day and drive hard.
The entire team at FlightSafety is laser focused on ensuring we deliver the highest quality training to our clients, so they, and their passengers, can go home to their families every day for years to come.
Do you find that you need a particular approach to make safety education for pilots more engaging?
To some extent, yes, but like all of us, if the information is relevant, interesting, and relatable, pilots will be engaged. Short, high impact topics that focus on a single item and are six to seven minutes long are perfect for stirring interest, and then weaving those same topics through the rest of the training to show the influence it has on other areas of operation is very beneficial. It is easy to lose the interest of a pilot in a safety topic if it is presented as a ‘you must do this’ concept, versus leading them to the realization through a path of discovery.
If the topic is relatable, such as sharing aggregated data associated with the operation of the aircraft they fly, pilots will be more engaged. For example, talking about runway excursion risk to business aviation pilots flying to small airports but using scheduled airline operations information from large airports, or fixed-wing scenarios when talking to rotary-wing pilots is a losing scenario. Pilots want to know what’s in it for them and how can they prevent themselves from having a bad day.
Where does simulation fit into training and safety?
Simulation is without question the gold standard for obtaining and retaining the level of performance necessary to ensure safe operation of an aircraft. It is critical to training on rarely encountered scenarios that require prompt action to protect safety margins. The level of fidelity that modern devices have ensures realistic flight operation in controlled environments, assuring confidence and competence in everything from the mundane to the complex.
Simulation is without question the gold standard for obtaining and retaining the level of performance necessary to ensure safe operation of an aircraft
While many feel in-aircraft training and checking is equivalent, there are simply maneuvers that cannot be done safely. For example, an engine failure during take-off or a go-around can only be mimicked in the aircraft as it is not practical to simply shut off an engine in the aircraft for obvious safety reasons. Additionally, unlike a simulator instructor or evaluator, the individual introducing the ‘failure’ cannot be completely uninvolved in the operation of the aircraft as they occupy a crew seat.
The type of simulation FlightSafety offers is type specific, but primary students in the first stages of their training utilize simulators such as the Frasca devices found in flight schools all over the world. These devices have advanced to allow for introduction of complex scenarios that develop the decision making of pilots from the very early days of their career.
What makes a good simulator?
The most important aspect of simulation is the instructor. Of course, high fidelity and accurate representation of the aircraft handling is critical, but the best tool is only fully effective if operated by a skilled instructor.
High fidelity and accurate representation of the aircraft handling is critical, but the best tool is only fully effective if operated by a skilled instructor
The technical aspect of operating the aircraft is of course very important, but we take great pride in the quality of our instructors and the training program used to ensure the highest level of instruction possible. FlightSafety instructors are held to a very high standard both internally and by our clients. They know they are training people to operate highly sophisticated aircraft in a challenging environment. A critical aspect of the training is developing the interpersonal skills between crewmembers during abnormal and emergency situations and managing the pace of training to prevent information overload. Without a high-quality instructor training program, the training delivery is far less effective.
Are there any trends or advances in safety that are upcoming?
FlightSafety’s partnership with GE Digital and other industry leaders on safety initiatives has already yielded great insights that we would otherwise have not had. Using these, we will continue to evolve our training to focus on areas of risk in the industry. Specifically, runway excursion, controlled flight into terrain, and loss of control in flight all remain high focal areas for us as they continue to be challenging for the industry. We are working on several other risk identification and reduction tools to aid our clients in ensuring the highest possible safety margins and expect these to deploy in the early portion of 2024.
In what ways does FlightSafety International champion and support safety?
Beyond the obvious that our core mission is providing the best training we can to ensure the safest pilots in the sky, we are engaged in a lot of initiatives focused on safety. FlightSafety is a major sponsor of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA), which is focused on safety and precision. Additionally, FlightSafety has been a major supporter of the Citation Jet Pilots group, a group intently focused on the safe operation of Citation aircraft, which has seen a tremendous safety record for its members.
Our core mission is providing the best training we can to ensure the safest pilots in the sky
From our inception in 1951, when our founder Al Ueltschi opened the doors of the first flight simulation company that has grown to what it is today, the mission has always been focused on safety. What we do is more than checking the regulatory boxes, it is about saving lives.
What does the next year hold for you and FlightSafety International?
The past few years have seen an incredible evolution in the industry, and it is clearly not done yet. As we move into 2024, our primary objective will remain intently focused on safety and efficiency. Of course, we will not be resting on our laurels, and we continue to work to identify ways to reduce the impact of the root causes of industry trends. We have engaged some industry experts to help with some detailed studies related to risk reduction and look forward to those deploying in 2024. Our recently announced simulator data processing program is really gathering speed and we expect to soon have the interfaces finalized to allow the operators who train with us and use GE Digital for their flight analytics to have opportunities to fuse virtual and real-world data.