Is Business Aviation Compromising the ‘Justification of the Third Crew Member?’

By Scott D. Arnold, Sājet Solutions.

Continuation of the Name Game series on Corporate Flight Attendant Training and Branding

Whenever someone posts an inquiry about becoming a corporate flight attendant, the standard response is: “First, you must have cabin safety training by ________ (fill in the vendor).” 

Some of you may be surprised to learn this was not always the case. When I first transitioned into business aviation in 2001, not a single flight department I flew for cared if I was cabin safety trained. Not a one (and there were several). Coming from a commercial airline (USAirways), I was stunned. Cabin safety and emergency procedures were continuously drilled into my head since I became a flight attendant in 1988 (yes, I have been in aviation for 33 years). Regulations are crystal clear in the commercial airline world. In business aviation, they are muddled with many, many shades of grey.

Regulations are crystal clear in the commercial airline world. In business aviation, they are muddled with many, many shades of grey.

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The history of cabin safety in business aviation

Cabin safety training in business aviation didn’t become a mandatory requirement on its own (but not a FAR for Part 91 ops, with the exception of G550 regs). Over several decades, we have had many leaders rallying for this change but as with most aviation processes, it takes time. A long time. However, over the past 10-15 years, the largest momentum in this push was accomplished by the tireless commitment of the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee (FAC), a group of highly dedicated volunteers, who really brought, “The Justification of the Third Crewmember” to the forefront. This committee consists of active corporate flight attendants, flight technicians, leaders, managers, and vendors, all working cohesively for the betterment of our peer group. I had the privilege of witnessing much of this firsthand having served on the committee for over 10 years, as an active member and as chair. I’m now part of the esteemed alumni group continually supporting this committee and its efforts. 

The FAC members wrote and established the job descriptions, duties and the importance of cabin safety training for our peer group because what had been written was, quite frankly, insulting. While I was chair, the FAC worked directly with the IS-BAO standards manager to change the cabin crew terminology and importance of cabin safety training (at the time the definitions were extremely vague). More recently, the FAC members were the point liaisons with OSHA coordinating the new protocols affecting cabin crew. Several members of the FAC are currently coordinating the establishment of an accreditation course and exam for cabin crew, with third-party international standards and testing organizations.

The FAC, through their unified goals and their commitment, are the ones who took a firm stance addressing bias against cabin crew in our industry. None of these tasks were easy accomplishments and should be applauded and recognized! 

Current Cabin Safety Environment

Now that cabin safety training is readily available through numerous vendors, there are other challenges the industry faces. The push for soft skills— culinary, butler service, fine dining, etc— training has become more prominent. Although the focus is not necessarily bad, softs skills and cabin safety training courses are bundled and supported by the various training vendors.

Let me be clear: Inflight service, etiquette, and culinary/catering skills training are very important, and key to the success of our careers. However, we need to be mindful that this should never take precedence— or even appear to take precedence over the importance of cabin safety training.  I often refer to these two platforms as:

  • Cabin safety is the required training, and hopefully, you never have to use it.
  • Soft skills are the training opportunities not required but are how to achieve and sustain your career as corporate cabin crew.

So, why shouldn’t they be offered as a bundle?

Over the past few years, there has definitely been a shift for more enhanced inflight service and culinary skills training. This is mainly due to the clientele demand and expectations, competing flight operations, a new production of business jets and portable equipment we can carry onboard, as well as corporate flight attendants competing against one another, and of course …  the significant impact of social media. Therefore, this new ‘wave’ is causing a bit of a paradigm shift. Soft skills training has become just as important as cabin safety training and in some cases, more important. It’s a delicate balance and also a slippery slope when they are provided equally by training vendors. That being said, how many careers can you name which have dual roles such as cabin crew?  In commercial aviation, it’s pretty clear – flight attendants are primarily on board for safety, and they just also happen to provide inflight service. Business aviation is a mixed bag of why we are on board with no easy answers or solutions. 

In commercial aviation, it’s pretty clear – flight attendants are primarily on board for safety (and they just also happen to provide inflight service). Business aviation is a mixed bag of why we are on board with no easy answers or solutions. 

The two “gold standard” training vendors are obviously well-known, highly regarded, and recognized for cabin safety training. They both offer, as an add-on, basic hands-on soft skills training as a package. However, in the past few years, both have significantly reduced the service-training portion (down to a one-day class).  Before, an initial student only had to attend one of these vendors to launch their career. This training, listed on your resume, was all you needed. 

Now, however, upon completion of training, some new-to-industry graduates feel unprepared for the full scope of the job responsibilities. This in turn has fueled the success of other training vendors, when soft skills are combined with cabin safety training, along with some additional perks. 

My question is: With all of the “other” training vendors offering these robust training bundles – is cabin safety training being compromised as it appears that many of them –  inflight service and etiquette training are taking precedence? 

I’ve looked at all of their curriculums online and many seem more like, “cabin safety lite” with a much heavier focus on soft skills, placement success, and focusing on the dream of the career.  Most of them only show photos/videos of ditching training, only one exit trainer, or none at all =  i.e. no real hands-on training.

At what point do we say enough already and hold them ALL accountable? Because every training vendor is responsible for this shift, even the two “gold standards.”

Training Accountability in Business Aviation

Many of the vendors are limited with the type of hands-on cabin safety training because of cost. Cabin and exit mock-ups are expensive – extremely expensive! But if you want to be considered an equal – you need to provide like an equal. I believe the “gold standards” reduced their soft skills portion of training also because of cost – additional trainer costs and … time.  Just think about that. The top two intentionally chose to sideline soft skills training, therefore forcing those new to the industry to search for additional programs to meet that necessary component of the corporate cabin crew member.

This was the catalyst in the launching of The CFA Gateway complimentary online standards training program launching in early 2022. This will help alleviate the pressures for those new to the industry and also assist with standardizing our duties and establishing consistencies without choosing a vendor side (since CFA Gateway is designed to support all training vendors). 

It’s no secret, there are many flight operations that have cabin crew onboard for service only. Should we dismiss their value and credibility in this industry? Absolutely not! Should these employers and operators be held accountable?  Define accountable? This is a very slippery slope as the operators are actually following the regulations. However, all operators can also take the standards well beyond the limited regulations and implement industry best practices to keep the bar set high. Therefore, it’s a choice. 

Summary

My takeaway is – just because the regs are poorly written, it shouldn’t make our lack of justification an absolute. Auditing programs such as IS-BAO and BASC have had a significant impact on increasing the safety culture with both private and charter flight operations – globally. These types of standards take it beyond the limited, and often blurry, regulations. These standards and best practices really helped change the industry to define and support our significance in the cabin. 

So, how do we cabin crew continue to create change and yet, maintain the importance of cabin safety? If we are going to take our careers seriously, then we all need to start taking our careers seriously! Vendors and operators included. We need to be in this together.

We tend to get distracted by all the shiny and glittery parts of the career. That’s ok to a certain extent …(I’m generalizing here):

We shouldn’t solely gauge a CFA’s proficiency and success by their welcome tables and table settings.

We shouldn’t solely gauge a CFA by the beautiful destinations they enjoy.

We shouldn’t solely gauge a CFA by the type of business jet they work on.

Sure, we create beautiful flower arrangements, plate masterpieces and stage the cabin to perfection. This is part of our careers and it’s … well, it’s really fun! We should all show off a little because this is what makes our industry so incredible and unique.

As I have said, this is a delicate balance and there’s a “double edge sword” we all deal with on a daily basis – when the “rubber hits the road,” what will you do?  

I often ponder – what do the flight operations, that don’t require cabin safety training, (really) expect us to do?  Regardless of the safety briefing criteria (are we onboard for safety or are we only onboard for service – per SAFO)? Despite the briefing, who are the clients going to be relying on for direction and guidance in an inflight emergency? …. Exactly!  We cannot go beyond the scope of our training or lack thereof….

Why are we all over the map in business aviation when it comes to cabin crew requirements? Unfortunately, this is actually a simple answer – it’s a very safe industry, therefore, the statistics support the biased mindset. No proven need = there is no need?? 

We’ve fought long and hard to establish cabin safety training as the foundation of this profession, despite the regulations. Cabin safety should ALWAYS be paramount in training standards. Everyone needs to start there! Soft skills and enhancement training are very important to our careers and they should and must be included – but not overshadow cabin safety.

If we as a community truly want to sustain industry cabin safety standards and the justification of the third crewmember, then WE need to once again align for the betterment of our career recognition. 

How do we accomplish this? We start where we have the most impact – the training vendors. We all need to unify to do better. Be better. This may surprise you, but I support having several training vendors available as competition. Options force all to continually improve and evolve. Many need a wake-up call and up their cabin safety training game in order to justify having a slice of the cabin safety training pie – in the highly sought-after recognition of the Name Game.

In the end, we all strive to do better, be better, provide better – we all benefit from it.

 

COMING SOON!

In ‘Name Game’ series Part 5, I will tackle the associated costs of cabin safety training and why there is so much contention within our group regarding the tuition rates. Are the rates justified or not? You may be surprised.

Continuing in the cabin safety theme, in a future blog, I plan on providing a detailed ‘anatomy of an accident’ discussing the Platinum Jet Challenger 600 accident in TEB, which was a big game-changer in business aviation part 135 operations, and initiated the SAFO included in this blog. This accident was back in 2005, and just as with everything else – after this wake-up call from complacency – humans reacted, made changes, and then …. 16 years later, have once again become complacent.  No accidents = no accountability. 

About the Author Scott Arnold

Scott began his aviation career in 1988 as a commercial flight attendant, transitioned into business aviation in 2001, is the Founder of The CFA Connection resource platform and Sajet Solutions, former director of a major crew staffing company, and the past Chair NBAA Flight Attendants Committee, and is the Chief Flight Attendant for a private owner.