With “dueling” safety auditing standards in play today, what's a charter operator to do?
While ARGUS has decided not to participate in the ACSF auditing program, Wyvern (now owned by the CharterX online charter operator database) has been on board since the ACSF opened its doors. “We are one of the founding members of the ACSF board and have been there since day one,” said Jim Betlyon, CharterX president. “And we do support a common audit standard. As long as it covers the kind of things our clientele feel are important, then we would support the adoption of a common audit like the ACSF. And it does fulfill that purpose.”
It will be a few years before people accept and understand the scope of the ACSF audit, Betlyon predicted. “NetJets/EJM was one of the first to support it. We've done about half of the ACSF audits so far in our capacity as an ACSF-approved auditing firm. NetJets recognizes the audit as a snapshot, but it is ongoing monitoring that ensures safe operations, and we do that through our database under contract to them.” Betlyon noted that the ACSF audit is very demanding, but maintains that once operators understand the process and its depth, they will accept it. “There is a lot of preparation required for it,” he said. “The smaller operators will probably not have an SMS in place or to the degree the ACSF requires.”
Despite the presence of audited industry codes of practice like IS-BAO and the ACSF, independent third-party auditors like Wyvern and ARGUS (plus many more) continue to maintain their own auditing and operator rating programs, offering Part 91/91K and 135 operators and charter customers lots of choice in terms of safety assurance programs and approvals, such as ARGUS's CHEQ system (for Charter Evaluation and Qualification) with its hierarchy of Silver, Gold, Gold Plus and Platinum ratings. “The ARGUS audit is just one part of our operator rating,” Moeggenberg pointed out. “We are accepting anyone who's been through a stage one IS-BAO audit [the interim audit in the program] for an ARGUS Gold Plus rating.”
Speaking for his program, CharterX/Wyvern's Betlyon said, “A Wyvern recommendation means you've been assessed according to our system. It means that an operator not only has passed the on-site audit but continues to operate at the Wyvern level - for example, they do simulator training twice a year, have logged 75 hours in the last 90 days and 300 hours in the past year, and so forth. We assure currency. The guy who just came out of sim training and is an active pilot is a safer pilot. Because our Fortune 500 customers require a Wyvern audit, we will continue to audit 135 operators to the Wyvern standard. Once the ACSF does a better education of the consumer, I can see the ACSF audit increasingly accepted. We also continue to do IS-BAO and best-practices audits of Part 91 operators.”
Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, observed that “Charter operators do need an accepted audit standard with at least a national registry so they can reduce the number of audits they have to go through.” He said “duplicative audits that are sometimes superficial” had prompted the airlines to create IOSA and that “the real key is the registry and acceptance.”
Neither has yet achieved universality within the charter community, but there has been progress nonetheless. As NATA/ACFS's Lawton noted, “All the auditing that has been done to date has benefited the industry, and we have improved as a result. Just the idea that [the various programs] are auditing to a standard and that someone is coming in from the outside and verifying that an operator is meeting a standard and best practices is beneficial to the industry and the end user. I think that all these programs have advanced that notion.”