What if there was a way for that contract pilot or a new hire to immediately understand how your company works and what its procedures are? This is where your Flight Operations Manual (FOM) comes in handy. Yet there’s so much more to an FOM. Aside from supporting your organization by formalizing procedures and guidelines, it also helps streamline your operation and assists your team in performing their duties safely. But what goes into an FOM? How customizable can it be? What are the misconceptions that might make operators hesitant to develop one?
What is an FOM in aviation?
An FOM is the beating heart of your flight department: it describes the operation, tells people what they need to know to best carry out their duties, it ensures everyone is on the same page improving operational efficiency and safety, and serves as the company handbook. All employees, contract personnel, and new hires should familiarize themselves with the FOM to properly understand the workings of the operation.
Although not required for Part 91 operations by the FAA, foreign registries, such as Bermuda (OTARs) and EASA countries (Part-NCC), do require some type of FOM. However, the way in which you meet the requirements is up to your operation. You’ll want to customize your FOM to best fit the size and complexity of your operation.
Why do you need an FOM?
The main advantage of having an FOM is that your procedures and policies are formalized by being written down and standardized across your operation. Your team can get a clear idea of what’s expected of them. Additionally, the FOM helps ensure business continuity when contracting personnel, making additions to the team, or staff turnover. Without this standardization, two people might perform the same duty in different ways, which could lead to a safety or efficiency problem. Formalizing and documenting processes helps ensure all personnel are following the same guidance and can help prevent misunderstandings.
It is best practice for every operation, regardless of complexity and size, to have an FOM. But how can the manual help operations of all sizes from the single-pilot operator to the large flight department?
FOM for single-pilot operators
As a single-pilot operator, it’s easier to bend the rules for yourself than for a team. If you’re flying with someone else, that other person can tell you if you’re deviating from the procedures. But when you’re alone, it’s more difficult to realize this may be happening. Having an FOM helps you set boundaries and encourages you to stick to the rules. An FOM becomes a checklist, and you can track how many times you deviate from the manual. If this happens too often, you can self check your operation, analyze risks, and adjust accordingly.
FOM for larger operations
Having an FOM for larger operations is especially useful in getting everyone on the same page. For a large group of people, it’s easier to have standardized procedures in place, particularly when team members are rarely together in the same location. An FOM also helps decrease complexity during onboarding and offboarding.
FOM myths debunked
Some operators remain skeptical towards an FOM, which is caused by a few common misconceptions.
An FOM will make you do a bunch of extra unnecessary work. While it may be true that in aviation you oftentimes have to fit your processes to a manual, the FOM should be written in accordance with what your operation is already doing. What works in your operation is what goes into the manual. If your processes need to change, your FOM changes along with them.
An FOM will limit your operation. An FOM is your core guidance, but it should always include a way to deviate from procedures outlined if necessary. If any situation requires you to sidestep from company procedures, that’s OK, as long as you’re still in accordance with applicable regulations. If you find yourself deviating from the manual too often, you might have to reconsider the processes you put in place and determine the root cause of the deviation. The deviation process in your FOM can help you do this. You might then implement changes and those changes would in turn be reflected in your FOM.
An FOM is overly complex. An FOM should always reflect the complexity of your operation – that’s why it should be tailor-made to your operation. Working off a borrowed FOM or a stock template is not really useful as it will likely include unnecessary procedures or miss elements unique to your operation, making the manual unhelpful.
What should be included in an FOM?
While FOMs can vary greatly since they are customized to an operation, there are certain elements each FOM should cover. We recommend starting with these five sections:
- Job Descriptions and Personnel Policies – A description of the roles and responsibilities helps everyone understand what is expected of them. This section should also include company policies (e.g., alcohol consumption, fitness for duty, vacation, personnel conduct, etc.) so as to avoid ambiguity.
- Operating Procedures – How the operation works: aircraft, passenger, and crew scheduling; pre-flight procedures (such as planning, fueling, etc.); passenger handling procedures; aircraft SOPs, call-outs, and checklists; flight following protocols, in-flight procedures, and post-flight requirements.
- Emergency Procedures – This section should include basic procedures on how to handle in-flight emergencies and procedures for possible accidents and incidents. However, consider getting a fully customized Emergency Response Plan (ERP) for your organization so your team will be prepared for any incident – in the air and on the ground.
- Maintenance Procedures – A description of maintenance documentation and tracking requirements, procedures, and safety programs (e.g., procedures for working alone, use of safety equipment, etc.).
- Training – List and describe required and recommended training for all personnel, not just for pilots and technicians, as well training intervals.
With these five elements, you already have a solid FOM to support your operation, but you should also consider including a Safety Management System (SMS). The SMS should be customized to the size and complexity of your operation. The FOM would include the various forms, processes, and components that make sense for your SMS.
Getting a customized FOM
AviationManuals makes creating a customized FOM – with SMS included – really easy. Bringing together our knowledge from working with thousands of operators, combined with regulatory sources, industry best practices, IS-BAO, and more, we can work with you to build a manual that reflects the needs of your particular operation. All we need is for you to complete a simple questionnaire and provide any existing policies and procedures you may already have. We’ll do the rest. Sounds easy right? Any questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out.