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Keynote Address for the 2010 Training, Standardization and Compliance Conference, Concord, NC
Robert L. Sumwalt
Concord, NC

Thank you, Dan (Brunskole). 
I want to congratulation the organizers and sponsors for putting together this conference on this very important topic. But, you wouldn’t have a conference if people didn't attend. Here, we have over 250 people from different organizations, and that shows the professional commitment that you have to training, standardization and compliance.

The title of my presentation is "High Standards: Do you have the Right Attitude?"

Here on the cover slide you see an attitude indicator. This attitude indicator is from an aircraft that hit the water at 280 miles per hour. Perhaps after we discuss that accident, you'll agree that that organization did not have the right attitude about standardization or training.

First, before we discuss that accident and others, what is standardization, why do we need it, and how do you get there?

What is standardization?

Standardization is a discipline. It is the professional commitment of an organization to collectively do things a certain way. Standardization is the backbone of professionalism.

Why do we need it?

When we get to the PowerPoint part of the presentation, we’ll look at some vivid accident examples where the NTSB found that lack of standards or not adhering to standards has been a factor in the accident. There is a definite link between not following standards and accidents. We'll talk about that in a few minutes.

Before we do that, however, let me tell you about the Lautmann - Gallimore a study. Lautmann and Gallimore did a study of airlines that would be considered “world class” because of their safety record, their customer service, and overall quality of operations. They found with those carriers that they looked at, there was a consistent theme that ran through all of them. They all had a top management commitment to safety. Safety started at the top of the organization and permeated throughout the organization. They all has a strong commitment to good quality training. And they all had a strong emphasis on standardization and discipline.

"Management recognizes the need for aircrews performing in a standardized way and the importance of cockpit discipline in providing the environment for the proper crew coordination," wrote Lautmann and Gallimore.  "Cockpit procedural language is tightly controlled to maintain consistency and to avoid confusion from non-standardized callouts which can result from crew members using different phraseology. Callouts and responses are done verbatim."

So, those researchers found a definitive link training and standards and safety and the NTSB has found a definitive link between lack of those things and accidents.

How do you get there?

So, with regards to standardization, how do you get there? Well, there isn't a "there." It is a constant process of striving for operational excellence.

In 2004, I left employment with an airline to take over and manage the flight department for a Fortune 500 company. At the time, the company had over  $9 billion in assets, and among other things, they generated and distributed electrical power through nuclear power.

I found that there a disconnect between the how they ran their core business - providing electric and gas service to millions of customers and running a nuclear power plant, and what they were getting with their aviation department. The aviation department:

  • Didn't have a Flight Operations Manual
  • Didn't have a MEL
  • Didn't have on-field maintenance 
    • The closest maintenance facility was 100 miles away.
    • We relocated to another airport and found a local maintenance provider
  • Didn't have a formalized way that a pilot could determine airworthiness - sticky notes.
    • "Aircraft was back in the hangar."
  • Didn't comply with Service Bulletins because they weren't required by FAA
  • Didn't have the trust and confidence of management
  • Above all, they weren't providing the level of service and safety that the company expected them to provide.

What we did was collectively over time, was to agree on how we would operate.

We agreed on polices, procedures, checklists, flows, callouts. We agreed how we would operate and we documented it in a flight operations manual that we wrote. We didn't just go out an order a manual from the internet and say we have one.

The FOM would become our Bible - the document that guided us through our day-to-day professional lives.

We agreed that if procedures didn't work, we wouldn't just selectively not comply, but rather, we would run those issues through our Flight Standards Board, where they board would study the issues and make changes, if warranted.

We put our money where our mouths were. We tied standardization to our incentive bonus goals. Effectively, this made us our brother's keeper.

Today, thanks to leadership of my successor, Rick Boyer, and those in that department, and mentoring by people like Bill Freeman and Dave Dudley, that organization is now IS-BAO stage Two.

So, if you want to have the right attitude about standardization, agree on how you want to operate. Document it. Train for it. Check for it. And, finally, reward it.

Standardization is an essential component of professionalism. In my opinion, if you aren't standardized, you aren't a professional flight department - you're just an expensive flying club.

>> Acompanying Presentation