The global demand for raw materials has caused a significant growth in mining operations, with an equivalent level of growth in the operations of contract aviation companies involved in supporting the resource industry. For many smaller aircraft operators, this has meant an increase in operating capacity and, in a number of cases, the introduction of larger and more complex aircraft types. This growth typically presents a degree of organizational change, with concurrent risk, that often is not clearly understood.
Risk oversight and management are key elements of governance for any corporation, and not just from the commercial perspective. While managing risk has for a long time been a recognized responsibility of high-risk industries, the safety of third-party providers of services, including aviation services, is measured by a variety of standards.
As the number of aircraft operators involved in providing third-party aviation services has grown, so, too, has the need increased for resource companies to apply prudent governance measures to ensure that these operators meet standards that should, in the majority of cases, exceed regulatory requirements.
Individual audits of aviation service companies performed within the conventional system typically are not conducted to a broadly accepted standard and often are measured only against the audit company’s standards. The audit reports may also include subjective comments guided in part by the bias of the auditor, which can lead to a significant degree of report variability. In addition, the frequency with which aircraft operators are audited is problematic. For example, one helicopter operator received 27 separate audits in a 12-month period, incurring significant direct and indirect costs.
In recognition of these issues, Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), in conjunction with a number of major resource companies, last year developed the Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) with the goal of uniting all resource industry aviation service providers under a single comprehensive risk standard through which a single audit will certify an operator for all BARS member organizations (BMOs).
Greg Marshall, recently appointed director of the FSF BARS program, said, “With a BARS audit, subjectivity is removed, leaving a succinct but comprehensive report that provides for a truly risk-based approach to aircraft operator assessment.”
Bristow Helicopters, Australia, was recently audited under the BARS standard. Bob Turner, Bristow’s chief pilot, noted, “The auditors were very good at the process and carried out a totally objective audit according to the guidelines.”
Since BARS was introduced, 12 resource sector companies have become BMOs, with three more in the process of joining. The United Nations’ World Food Programme, a significant global user of outsourced aviation support, recently committed to becoming a BMO (“Safety on the Frontier,” March 2011).
To date, 26 BARS audits have been conducted, with 20 more planned over the coming weeks. Five accredited audit companies, three of which are based in Australia, conduct these audits.
The BARS Program Office in Melbourne also manages accredited auditor courses from which 57 auditors have graduated at this writing. In addition, seven aviation coordinator training courses have been conducted in four countries, with 84 attendees. Two more auditor courses are planned in the coming months.
“Some operators are intuitively noting that a successfully completed BARS audit will produce a commercial advantage,” Marshall said. “An operator who has undertaken a BARS audit against a well-defined and widely accepted standard has a distinct competitive advantage when it comes to providing services to end user BMOs.”