When it comes to aviation safety—whether the topic is fatigue, cockpit and cabin operations, or the late-night replacement of an APU in time for an 0600 departure— Bombardier’s three-day Safety Standdown has risen high on the must-attend list for aviation practitioners around the globe over the past 23 years.
The first Safety Standdown was the brainchild of a team of pilots led by Bob Agostino, former director of Bombardier’s flight operations in Wichita, Kansas, following a tough accident investigation. Also an experienced investigator, Agostino asked members of his department for suggestions, and one, a US Air Force veteran, mentioned how the military dealt with similar issues: “We’d stand down [from flying] until we figured out the cause of the problem.”
Agostino realized there was no reason to wait for another accident to the search for answers. Not long after, the first Safety Standdown was launched as an internal training tool for Bombardier’s seven-pilot Wichita flight department. In 1997, the Safety Standdown expanded to include Bombardier’s research-and-development teams and the company’s test pilots. A few years later, customers were invited. By the turn of the century, the doors were opened at no cost to other flight departments and individuals.
The rest is history, with more than 10,000 people having attended the SSD since the beginning, including professionals from the airlines, business aviation, the military, aircraft OEMs, a variety of government agencies and industry associations, such as the National Business Aviation Association, which co-sponsors the event.
While most SSDs have been held each fall in Wichita, the 2019 event attracted 543 people to Fort Worth, Texas. All available SSD slots were spoken for just eight days after the first announcement, leaving 143 people on the waiting list. Many of the presentations were, however, broadcast on the web and archived for operators around the US and in dozens of foreign countries.
SO WHAT’S THE POINT?
You could think of the Safety Standdown as annual safety refresher training focused around a theme; this past year’s was “Learn, Apply, Share,” meant to reinforce the SSD concept that simply meeting any regulator’s minimum standards should never be good enough—for anyone. The lessons contained in SSD sessions can easily be applied to pilots and technicians in most any category because event organizers believe every aviation professional has the responsibility to learn, to seek as much information as possible from already-existing human factors and technical training. Each year, the SSD adds to that body of knowledge.
Some of the more tantalizing of the two dozen topics presented at the most recent SSD came with titles such as “When Your Cockpit Becomes Your Enemy” and “Emotional Well-Being in Aviation,” highlighting a few of the problems inherent in what some experts view as the narrowly focused aviation education being dished out today. The problems surrounding that education are expected to grow over the next decade as hundreds of thousands of new pilots and maintenance technicians begin careers around the world.
If the SSD were ever to name a dean emeritus, that title would surely fall on Dr. Tony Kern, an engaging, self-effacing, animated and humorous voice who’s constantly nudging participants to improve their personal performance beyond minimum standards. Kern is chief executive officer and a founding partner of Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Convergent Performance, a company focused on optimizing people’s personal and professional performance. His well-known fictional-character-based speaking style—where he once entered the room looking like Sherlock Holmes reincarnated, preeminent thinking process included—manages to stay just far enough away from that of motivational speaker Tony Robbins to hold the interest of professionals in aviation.
Before creating Convergent Performance, Kern—a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force—served as a command pilot and flight examiner as well as chairman of the Air Force’s Human Factors Steering Group. He was spurred into the human-performance field after two of his Air Force students lost their lives in 1992 when their B-1 bomber slammed into a ridgeline on a moonless night. Kern studied and wrote tirelessly after that as a way to come to grips with where he might have had failed those two pilots.
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