Congratulations! You either currently own a business aircraft or have decided to add one to your business weapons inventory.
Along with the competitive advantage owning and operating a business aircraft comes the responsibility to protect the company from the huge liability exposure it presents. Risk management measures, including recurrent pilot training, buy-in of a safety culture at the executive level, and a properly structured insurance policy, are all paramount. But assuming you have done everything right, you still can’t ignore the fact that as safe as corporate aviation is, you may one day face the news that your aircraft has been involved in an accident. Your actions in the initial hours following a serious aircraft accident may well determine the survival of your company. What’s your next move?
We spoke to the chief pilot of a corporate flight department who had the unfortunate experience of receiving the phone call that one of their aircraft had been destroyed in an accident. He recalled the media calling and showing up at the hangar door asking lots of questions, family members of passengers calling and arriving at the office demanding information, first responders, and the NTSB wanting to speak with someone at the company to confirm details of who was on the flight, etc. In short, chaos.
Fortunately, his flight department had previously taken the time to put together an emergency response plan that, even though not perfect, was an immense help. In it, they had already decided who the company media spokesperson would be and had a written statement prepared addressing, first and foremost, concern for the families involved, the company’s high safety standards for the aircraft and pilots, and the company’s intention of full cooperation with authorities.
Aircraft accidents make headlines, and the media doesn’t always call your public relations staff for comment. More likely than not, they will show up at the accident scene and demand information from anyone representing the company. Or they may simply call the receptionist and ask for a comment. Has he/she been briefed on how to handle that potential call? “No comment” is not a good answer. Regardless of the facts, it will be perceived as a cover-up. Make sure your representative has the company’s written statement and make certain not to release unverified facts or speculate in any way. It may come back to haunt you.
Dealing with bereaved relatives is by far the most unpleasant task – and one your staff is probably the least prepared for. It’s unlikely you have psychologists or counselors on call, so often, the task falls on those employees or executives least qualified to deal with the trauma. Whose job is it to notify the families of the victims?
Fortunately, there are resources available to help corporate aircraft owners. Many aviation insurance companies have sample Emergency Response Plan (ERP) templates. Depending on the size of your flight department, your insurer may be willing to have their expert in Emergency Response Planning assist you in creating a plan or helping you improve or test the one you have. Periodic testing is imperative as phone numbers, procedures, and personnel change. Discover the bottlenecks by doing annual mock drills. How are phone calls after hours handled? Who has a list of the passengers on the plane? The flight department manager developed the plan but was on the accident aircraft. Now who is in charge?
Several insurance companies have begun including family assistance coverage under their policies. This coverage typically pays for the transportation of family members to and from the accident site, lodging near the accident site, and grief counseling. Lean on your insurance company adjusters. They have been through this numerous times and know the “ins and outs” of the process.
If you’ve already created an ERP, and don’t perform at least an annual mock run, commit to it going forward. If you don’t have an Emergency Response Plan in place, begin the process now. Well-run flight departments are prepared. Is yours? Your is always available to assist or help facilitate the process in any way they can.