The news in late August that EAN Aviation, the Lagos-based business aviation services company, had become the first Safety 1st Qualified African location to be listed on the US National Air Transportation Association’s (NATA) global FBO map has been greeted as a positive achievement across the industry.
The story of how this came to pass is one that many FBOs, ground handlers and others operating on the ramp (AOCs, MROs, etc.) will find of interest, and may even inspire them to take the step forward that will allow them to attain an international standard they may not have – no matter what size their operation is.
In February 2013, I had just started a consultancy contract with EAN at their FBO in Lagos – the very first Nigerian FBO, in fact! The company had two out stations, Abuja and Port Harcourt, but Lagos was the jewel in the crown. My function there was as wide as it was varied: I covered strategic partnership planning and negotiation, business development, sales and marketing, as well as the FBO operations, the AMO (Approved Maintenance Organization) and MRO.
CEO Segun Demuren (inset) was very keen on bringing EAN up to the best possible international standard, in all departments, but safety and customer service really were his overriding concerns. Demuren is the son of one of the most respected director generals of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren – an aeronautical engineer with an MSc in Aeronautical Engineering, who is often credited by international bodies as having dragged Nigerian aviation safety standards up by their boot straps during his tenure (2005-2013). So it’s no surprise that Segun Demuren was hot-wired to move safety and customer service up a level when the opportunity presented itself.
Before starting my own business airport/FBO consultancy-focused firm, I’d worked with Landmark Aviation and later with Universal Aviation. Both had a very strong safety and customer service ethos. At Landmark, I was introduced to the online-based Safety 1st Professional Line Service Training (PLST), with bi-annual recurrent training. Moving to Universal Aviation, I was impressed to find that PLST was also required for all ramp and customer care staff.
Laying the groundwork
EAN’s CEO was far from convinced that his team were being trained to the best possible standard. Early one morning, I popped over to his office and gave him an impromptu briefing on PLST, the benefits it would bring to the company and our clients, how it could be implemented and how much it would cost. Less than 20 minutes later, I walked out of his office as project manager.
Signing up for the program took just a few minutes. Next, each ramp ops, dispatch and CRO (Customs Relations Officer) shift was briefed on every aspect of PLST, with emphasis on generating enthusiasm and a team spirit for the project. Working with quality manager Josh Amara, we got everyone off to a great start. Within days, the head of HR said with a smile, “It’s great to see staff, heads down, quietly and enthusiastically working through the program as a team.” Even more pleasing was the fact that once away from the computers, they could be spotted in small groups discussing how best to work with their new skills, procedures and insight.
We provided a couple of additional work stations in quiet areas, where students not used to online training could concentrate and take notes as they worked through each theory module. Working with their supervisors, who were also taking the training, time was allocated throughout each shift, so the crew could get uninterrupted sessions at the computers.
Their enthusiasm was infectious. So much so that two engineers from the MRO/AMO offered to take small groups to the hangar for familiarization sessions on aspects of aircraft systems: flight controls, undercarriage, engines, avionics and fuel. This led to one of our based Citation XLS captains giving sessions in the cockpit, where he happily took time to explain everything from theory of flight to fuel calculations.
You might think all of this is going beyond what is necessary, but consider this: most of our operations crew had never been inside an aircraft before, let alone flown in one. We were in new territory, and given a one-off chance to build a new team, feed their enthusiasm and create a working environment where what they learned with the online training program could be carried with pride onto the ramp, into the hangar and throughout the entire customer service area.
Seeing the results
Just three weeks after starting the program, I received a call from the head of ground operations for a very well-known Europe-based AOC operator, who had a number of Challengers and a Global Express based with us. Their chief pilot had just returned from a flight to our facility and made a point of reporting that a very noticeable upgrade in service quality had been noted both on the ramp and in our VIP facility. This was an early endorsement of the decision to invest in PLST and our people.
With the online modules complete, it was time to undertake the practical tests. It was then that we saw how the online training, supported by mentoring from professionals in the industry, engineers and pilots, really came together. Gone were old, unsafe habits. Now we could see a complete team putting safety and pride into each and every task put before them. Everyone was taking time to think about what they had to do, checking out options, noting how other ramp users would be impacted by their decisions. In just under three months, we had all the students complete the course and all passed – the first FBO in Africa to be NATA Safety 1st PLST accredited! All done for a modest financial investment and without disrupting daily operations.
Following my return to Europe, Tayo Aiyetan, head of FBO operations, took oversight of the program and oversaw the recurrent training after two years. He moved the project onto the next stage, fulfilling the NATA requirements to put EAN on the global FBO map. EAN has now applied for IS-BAH status and CEO Demuren sees this as the company’s next progressive step forward.
A brief word about PLST modules
Safety 1st PLST offers a range of modules, covering ground servicing, safety, customer relations, marshaling, fire safety, airport security, towing and refueling. I believe there is great value in offering staff as many modules as possible, even if they’re not directly applicable to their role. For example, there is no harm in training your customer relations staff in the dangers of FOD (Foreign Object Debris), refueling or towing. The more exposure everyone gets to all that impacts safety and customer service delivery, the more both are enhanced, the more your team integrates with other departments, and the more the team as a whole operates in a safe and efficient manner.
About the author
Joe McDermott has worked in operations and business development with a number of FBOs including Landmark Aviation and Universal Aviation. As founder of Global FBO Consult, he has worked on projects in Bahrain, France, India, Ireland, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, the UAE, the UK and the USA. The company specializes in providing cost-effective solutions to assist airports, FBOs and ground handling companies grow efficiently and deal with the competition head on, allowing them to attract new customers, keep existing customers and generate maximum revenue.
September 7, 2016