Why It’s Time You Get An Operations Manual And What Should Be In It

Editors note: This post was originally published on July 29th, 2019. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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 OM in aviation?

Referred to in a variety of ways such as Flight Operations, Company Operations or even General Operations Manual, an Operations Manual (OM) is the beating heart of your flight department or organization: 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 thereby improving operational efficiency and safety, and serves as the company handbook.

All employees, contract personnel, and new hires should familiarize themselves with the OM to properly understand the workings of the operation.

Why do you need an Operations Manual?

It May Be Required

Depending on the state of registry of the aircraft and location of the primary business, an OM may be required by your regulatory authority. Additionally, if an operator is seeking third party certification, most programs require an Operations Manual and SMS. For operators that are not required to have an OM, it may still be recommended depending on the size, areas of, and types of operation.

It Can Improve Business Efficiency and Safety

The main advantage of having an OM is that your procedures and policies are formalized by being written down and standardized. The OM helps ensure business continuity for yourself, when contracting personnel, making additions to the team, or when managing staff turnover. Your team will always have a clear idea of what’s expected of them and can reference the manual if questions should arise. Without this standardization, two people might perform the same duty in different ways, which could lead to a efficiency, or worse, safety problem. An OM also helps ensure all personnel are following the same guidance to help prevent misunderstandings.

Check out every day examples of how an operations manual is useful for flight departments, single pilots, FBOs, and UAS/Drone operators in our full Why do you need an Operations Manual? post.

OM myths debunked

Some operators remain skeptical towards an Operations Manual, which is caused by a few common misconceptions.

An OM will make you do extra unnecessary work. While it may be true that in aviation you oftentimes have to fit your processes to a manual, the OM 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 OM changes along with them.

An OM will limit your operation. An OM is your core guidance, but it should always include a way to deviate from outlined procedures if necessary. If any situation requires you to sidestep 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 OM can help you do this. You might then implement changes and those changes would in turn be reflected in your OM.

An OM is overly complex. An OM should always reflect the complexity of your operation – that’s why it should be tailor-made to your operation. Working off a borrowed OM or a stock template is not really useful since it will likely include unnecessary procedures or miss elements unique to your operation, making the manual unhelpful.

What should be included in an OM?

While OMs can vary greatly since they are customized to an operation, there are certain elements each OM should cover. We recommend starting with these five sections:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Emergency Procedures – This section should include basic procedures on how to handle in-flight emergencies and procedures for possible accidents and incidents. However, also 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.
  4. 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.).
  5. Training – List and describe required and recommended training for all personnel, as well training intervals.

With these five elements, you already have a solid OM to support your operation, but you should also consider including a Safety Management System (SMS). The SMS should also be customized to the size and complexity of your operation. The OM would include the various forms, processes, and components that make sense for your SMS.

Getting a customized FOM

AviationManuals makes creating a customized Operations Manual – 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? It is. Any questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out.

Why You Need an Operations Manual

At the heart of your organization, an Operations Manual (OM) describes your operation and acts as the go to resource to ensure everyone on your team can operate safely and efficiently together.  Known by a variety of names such as Flight, Company or General Operations Manual, a quality OM can improve everything from streamlining processes to onboarding new employees.

An Operations Manual May Be Required

Depending on the state of registry of the aircraft and location of the primary business, an OM may be required by the relevant regulatory authorities. Additionally, even for operators that are not required to have an OM, it may still be recommended depending on areas and types of operation.  A few examples are as follows:

  • Part NCC operators – Required, regardless of number of pilots. Part NCC can also apply to single-pilot aircraft.
  • Bermuda-registered operators (OTAR Part 125) – Required, regardless of pilot count.
  • FAA-registered operators
    • Part 135 – Required
    • Part 91 – Strongly recommended
  • Operators following a third party standard (e.g., IS-BAH, AUVSI Top Certification, etc.) – Required

It Can Improve Business Efficiency and Safety

The main advantage of having an OM is that your procedures and policies are formalized and standardized by being consolidated in one manual . The OM helps ensure business continuity for yourself, when contracting personnel, making additions to the team, or even helping with staff turnover. It will always be clear to the team what’s expected of them since they can reference the manual if questions should arise. Without this standardization, two people might perform the same duty in different ways, which could lead to efficiency, or worse, safety problems. An OM can also help ensure all personnel are following the same guidance to prevent misunderstandings.

Operations Manual for Single-pilot Operators

As a single-pilot operator, it’s easier to “bend” the rules for yourself. When you are flying with someone else, the other person can tell you if you’re deviating from procedures, but when you’re alone, it’s more difficult to realize this may be happening. Having an Operations Manual (OM) can help set boundaries and encourages you to stick to the rules. An OM can become 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 what you are doing accordingly.

Every day examples:

  • Simplify Maintenance
    As a single pilot operator, it’s unlikely you would be doing your own maintenance or have an in-house team. If you are working with contract maintenance then the OM can be used to inform any Approved Maintenance Organization (AMO) working on the aircraft of what you expect in terms of maintenance. This might typically be done by giving them a copy of the maintenance control system.
  • Show Commitment to Safety
    Having an OM with an SMS that is appropriate for a single pilot operation can help you demonstrate to your passengers your commitment to safety and ensuring professional standards of service.

Operations Manual for FBO Operators

Standardizing policies and procedures in one document will provide your team with a resource to use when they have questions about what is expected of them or how to perform a task. This is particularly useful if you have seasonal employees, temp/contract workers, or certain roles with higher turn-over. Standardization also encourages safety and helps maintain customer service levels since personnel will be performing tasks in a consistent way.

Every day examples:

  • Ensure Customer Service
    There are many different customers passing through an FBO on any given day. Some you may see regularly and others only once. Formalizing the expected procedures across your entire team will ensure everyone is operating the same way and in return your customers will always be getting the same experience every time they visit your facilities.
  • Establish Emergency Response
    Depending on the operation it may or may not be best to have a standalone Emergency Response Plan. For those operations where a separate ERP doesn’t make sense, the OM will commonly contain a basic Emergency Response Plan to be used when responding to a variety of emergencies. If you are wondering how Covid-19 and the pandemic response has impacted this, check out our whitepaper.
  • Streamline Training and On-boarding
    From ground personnel to administrative staff, as you bring on new employees, contractors, or move personnel from one department to another, the OM can be used as the basis for training. The manual should cover items like ground support equipment, security procedures, SMS, and both ramp and facility operations.

Operations Manual for Drone Operators

Most drone departments are either still young or likely just getting started, so it’s even more important to have a documented standard for operating to ensure improved safety. The OM will give you and your teams guidance for areas such as safety, mission operations, emergencies, training, maintenance, and security. Formalizing procedures is also advantageous when competing for contracts, since it can be used as evidence that the department is going above and beyond to ensure jobs are done safely, effectively, and to a consistent level of quality.

Every day examples:

  • Demonstrate Safety
    It is becoming more and more common that commercial drone operators prove they are operating to a minimum safety standard. An OM with SMS is a common requirement for third-party audit standards.
  • Ensure Consistency Across a Variety of Missions
    Your crews may be operating different types of missions and/or in different operating environments. Where and what they are doing may change on a rotating basis or each day. Documenting procedures for operations based on location and mission should ensure they have a preflight resource they can consult to review procedural and safety requirements.

Operations Manual for Larger Operations

Having an OM 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 OM also helps decrease complexity during onboarding and offboarding.

The OM can be critical when operating different aircraft types or for different types of missions, as it should contain SOPs unique to each aircraft and mission. Additionally, in cases when it is appropriate, differences in scheduling, duty times, training, and security guidance should also be outlined.  Some operators go so far as to have a separate Operating Procedures section for each aircraft or mission type so they are clearly different with little to no overlap.

Every day examples:

  • Simplify Infrequently Used Processes
    It can be hard to remember exactly what you need to do for things you don’t do regularly or only do once a year. Documenting these important processes, such as PIC upgrade requirements, crew training requirements, aircraft parts handling, etc. will give you an easy to follow checklist without having to go back and dig through past records.
  • Allow Your Team to be More Efficient
    All kinds of new situations are likely to pop-up for your team during their day-to-day. Describing procedures for specific scenarios, such as what circumstances require a FRAT or MRAT to be used, or the requirements to fly into an airport that is particularly risky, small, etc., will ensure the guidance they need is always readily available.

Getting a Customized Operations Manual

AviationManuals makes creating a customized Operations Manual – with SMS included – really easy. Bringing together our knowledge from working with thousands of operators, combined with regulatory sources, industry best practices, IS-BAO, AUVSI Top Program, 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? It is.  Any questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out.

Post-Pandemic Planning Part 2: The Most Important Things You Should Be Doing with Your Manuals

An increasing number of countries are beginning to ease COVID-19 restrictions. While we will be feeling the aftermath of this global health crisis for quite some time, all industries, including aviation, should prepare for when lockdowns lift. Make the most of this time to prepare your operation for the bounce-back.

In the first part of this series, we encouraged you to use this time to close the gaps in your emergency response plan. It’s important to have the necessary tools in place to handle future emergencies, but without updated manuals, your whole enterprise may be at a disadvantage. The second part of this post-pandemic series is centered on updating your operations manuals. In-house reviews, such as updating your manuals, conducting internal audits, and checking your LOAs should be on your annual to do list anyway, so why not take the opportunity during this down time and get a head start?

Catch Up on Paperwork

If you are operating without a digital toolkit, it can be a headache to manage required paperwork. So now is a great time to catch up on all those documents you were previously too busy to complete, finish the manuals you were already working on, and get started on some new ones that have been on your to do list for far too long.

  • If you don’t have an Operations Manual yet, it’s time to get one. Whether you’re an FBO, drone operator, or flight department, an Operations Manual supports your organization by standardizing your guidelines, making it that much easier for new and existing employees to perform their duties in line with the way you do  things. Without this internal guide, you may be vulnerable to safety or efficiency issues. Keep in mind that an Operations Manual is a lot less daunting than most people realize – it should simply reflect the complexity of your organization.
  • Ensure you have the right documents in place to make it easier to stay in compliance with your LOAs.  For most LOAs, operators are required to continually ensure their crews have been trained on, have knowledge of, and/or have access to applicable procedures. Having a manual that contains the relevant procedures and is continually kept up to date is the easiest way to demonstrate compliance and avoid findings or even potential fines.

For global operations, this means getting an International Operations and Procedures Manual .

You may also need to consider an Enhanced Flight Vision Systems manual, Part NCC Compliance solutions, or an MEL.

Check When Your Manuals Were Last Issued

When was the last time your manuals were reissued? Since regulations, procedures, and best practices are constantly changing and being revised, it’s essential to make sure your manuals are up to date and you are being notified of important changes. Documentation should be updated on an ongoing constant basis, but certainly at the very least annually.

For example, new regulations became effective just earlier this year requiring RNP-4 and Data Link Letters of Authorization to fly in certain transoceanic airspaces. Have your manuals been updated with this newest guidance?

What about the latest expansions to National Security Sensitive Locations and LAANC for Drones? Both of these were updated with new locations in late 2019.

Audit Your Flight Plans

Flight plans are an essential part of your operation, but the FAA is increasingly finding flight plans have not been filled out correctly. On top of needing them for every flight, your organization must also provide a sample flight plan to obtain certain LOAs. When submitting an LOA application, the FAA will review flight plan codes, specifically in items 10 and 18. Having correct flight plans is critical to ensure uninterrupted flights and smooth LOA applications.

Find out more on how to evaluate your operation with an Internal Audit Program to ensure a culture of continual improvement. For organizations looking to audit their current flight plans, the International Operations and Procedures Manual is a great place to start to review applicable codes and requirements.

Work on Your Letters of Authorization

Applying for LOAs can be a lengthy process – don’t wait until you need one to apply for it. During COVID-19 the FAA and inspectors are still reviewing applications and issuing authorizations. Since it can take several weeks, or even months, to be granted an LOA, start your application before operations are back to full speed.

When applying for an LOA, you’ll need paperwork such as a cover letter, documentation of proper operations procedures, and copies of AFM pages and training certificates, to name a few. Luckily, after these applications are approved, LOAs do not usually expire. This means that unless there are significant operational changes, you will not have to go through this application process for the aircraft again.

The first step is to understand what your organization needs: not every flight department needs every LOA. If you are unsure what to apply for and how, download our free LOA Guide for clear guidance.

Feel free to contact us with any questions –we’re always ready to help.

Post-Pandemic Planning Part 1: Get Your Emergency Response Plan in Order

While countries are slowly beginning to open their doors again as the spread of coronavirus begins to stabilize, the world is going to feel the aftermath of this health crisis for months, perhaps even years, to come. As the lockdown lifts, it will be important for companies to have what they need in place for a smooth return to operations. Now is the time to make sure you are prepared.

One of the most important areas for your operation to focus on when preparing for life after the pandemic, is crisis management. While you may have made it through these trying times, there are still likely to be setbacks on the path to reaching pre-coronavirus levels of operation. On top of that, there are bound to be other emergencies in the future. Part of the new normal means making sure you are ready for all kinds of setbacks.

1. Run a Remote ERP Drill

Like a fire drill, the best way to make sure you have a good ERP is to use it in simulations.  You can even execute drills while employees are at home. Here are a few examples of how you can test your ERP:

  • Test your procedures for a variety of emergencies: Coronavirus has become a top concern for flight operations; however, there are still other crises that may lead you to activate your ERP. A successful response plan allows you to address any situation, whether on the ground or in the air. For example, what measures do you have in place if an aircraft is forced to make an emergency landing? Do ground operators know the proper protocols for calling security and medical professionals to meet that aircraft once they land? By running through different scenarios, you can pinpoint gaps in your ERP and close them before normal flight services resume.
  • Test health procedures: Even when travel begins to pick up, it will still be imperative that your employees know what to do during a health emergency. In the event you have an ill passenger, do you know whom to call? Do your employees know what extra supplies should be available on their aircraft and how to interact with a sick passenger to mitigate the risk of spreading any infection? Now is a great time to ask these questions, while operations are most probably less busy. To get started, you can take our quiz to review your current ERP.

2. Update All Contact Information

In an emergency, speed is essential. Operations cannot afford to waste time searching for the right person to contact. Here’s how to keep your ERP at peak performance:

  • Make sure all phone numbers in your ERP are accurate: An ERP should be a living document that adapts as staff members join, leave, or change roles. Take this opportunity to make sure contact information is up to date for each step of your ERP process. For example, do you have direct lines of communication listed for senior flight department managers and company resources? Will users be able to easily contact representatives from a Rescue Coordination Center, NTSP or FAA?

3. Make ERP Instructions Clear to All Team Members

The best ERPs can be initiated by anyone. It is important that your entire team (flight and non-flight positions) know what the very first action in any emergency should be. Here’s how you can prepare your team while they work from home:

Feel free to call us with any questions – we’re always ready to help.

Are You Prepared for a Health Emergency? – Take the Quiz

The recent health crisis has disrupted a significant portion of global travel. It is more crucial than ever to have manuals that are up to date to ensure flights are organized and executed as safely as possible.

Are your operations equipped to handle the COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies? Take our latest quiz and see how your safety management stacks up.


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Updating Your Manuals for Travel Health Concerns [+ Free Whitepaper]

Due to the recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, operators should be examining the policies and procedures they have in place surrounding travel health.

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There are many informational resources available that provide solid information on preparing for and responding to travel health concerns; however, piecing the information together and writing a procedure can be a challenge.

We have a few recommendations on where to get started…

For your Flight Operations Manual (FOM) / General Operations Manual (GOM)

We recommend including proactive policies into your FOM or GOM to address these concerns. A good place to start is the preflight planning phase, as the design of your flight may drastically change as you research travel health concerns. Some topics to include are:

Researching travel health concerns at the departure location, destination, and any territories you plan to overfly.

  • There are several resources that can be used to identify health concerns. Some examples are the United States’ Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Additionally, if contracted, utilize your inflight medical service provider as they should have much of this information readily available.
  • Read through this guidance and begin compiling information that may affect your flight. Some specific information to watch out for includes best practices to protect passengers and crew, travel restrictions, vaccination requirements and recommendations, screening and quarantine procedures, and any recommended medical support equipment.

Reviewing customs and governmental publications for any travel restrictions pertinent to your departure, destination, and any planned alternates. As seen with the COVID-19 and Ebola outbreaks, there may be restrictions on entry, requirements to arrive at particular airports, and additional information or Form requirements.

Planning potential medical diversion alternates. When the topic of alternate airports is brought up, most think of departure and destination alternates in case of bad weather; however, it is important to consider where crewmembers can land in the event of a medical emergency during the flight, particularly when operating internationally. Some items to consider are:

  • What medical services are available? A hospital may not be located near the airport and, in some cases, it may be faster to continue the flight to a different location. Additionally, not all hospitals are equipped to handle all types of emergencies.
  • Will the security situation at the diversion airport endanger crewmembers or passengers? Research local security issues and the political climate in advance.
  • Will there be a language barrier? It is beneficial to research potential interpreter services at each medical alternate in case they are needed.

Checking First Aid Kits (FAKs) / Emergency Medical Kits (EMKs) to make sure supplies are appropriate to the health situation.

  • Include a policy to check the FAKs / EMKs on your aircraft to make sure equipment and medications have not expired.
  • Outline policies for acquiring additional medical support equipment (universal precaution kits, medical face masks, hand sanitizers, and other suggestions based on your research).

It is also important to include procedures for crewmembers and passengers to follow during the trip. Some topics to explore are:

  • Personal hygiene: Encouraging frequent hand washing, avoiding touching the mouth / eyes / nose with unwashed or un-gloved hands, providing guidance on safe food / catering handling, and including procedures for aircraft cleaning / disinfection. Reinforce that any bodily fluids be treated as they are infectious.
  • Considerations for crewmembers while on the ground: Limiting movement and avoiding public transportation when in areas that have been identified to have a heightened risk of infectious disease.
  • Outlining procedures for crewmembers to identify a crewmember or passenger with a potentially communicable illness and report it to Air Traffic Control (ATC). The United States’ CDC has a webpage that lists symptoms and signs to be alert for.

For your Safety Management System (SMS)

An SMS lends itself well to evaluating travel health concerns, since an SMS is all about assessing and managing risk. Since the risk mitigation process will be similar to assessing a risk of a different nature, you may not have to adjust your SMS procedures; however, there are a few things to keep in mind:

First, perform a risk assessment. Will the risk level be too high? What mitigations can be put in place to lower the risk? Are there adequate resources available to execute these mitigations? Use the information you are gathering in the preflight planning process to support this risk assessment. You may also want to involve corporate / company resources and your Accountable Executive in these discussions.

If a location you frequently operate to is affected by a longer-term travel health concern, you should update your company’s Safety Risk Profile. Ensure the additional risk is captured and record any mitigations that can be used for future trips.

Lastly, if a travel health issue does arise during the trip, make sure it is reported per your incident and hazard reporting process. Perform a root cause analysis to discover why mitigations were ineffective and make modifications to them for the future. This is crucial to preclude a recurrence.

For your Emergency Response Plan (ERP)

The ERP will be key in responding to a travel health or medical emergency. These procedures will make sure everyone is aware of what needs to be done for a successful response.

A good place to start is to verify that any contact information in your ERP is up-to-date. This will benefit you not only in the event of a travel health emergency, but for any emergency type.

Specific to travel health emergencies, it may be easier to create procedures by breaking up the response into what crewmembers should do inflight and what personnel should do on the ground.

For an inflight medical emergency, evaluate your procedures to make sure personnel are well aware of:

  • The resources at their disposal. This can include training in First Aid, aircraft equipment that can be used while diverting (the FAK / EMK, therapeutic oxygen / walk-around bottle, and universal precaution kits), contacting an inflight medical service provider (if contracted), medical diversion alternate options and considerations, and coordinating with ATC for the ground response upon landing.
  • Who will be doing what. This will vary based on your aircraft crewmember composition (particularly if Flight Attendants are carried) and is critical to define. Consider who is trained and authorized to perform first aid, who will be communicating with an inflight medical service provider, who will be discussing options with ATC, and what to do if a crewmember is incapacitated.
  • What the crewmembers should do if a communicable illness is identified onboard. Reinforce discussing the concern with ATC as they can coordinate with the appropriate resources to ensure an appropriate response when you land.

Make sure you have policies for ground-based medical emergencies. This should not be limited to crewmembers on a trip – these emergencies can also occur at home base.

  • Similar to the inflight procedures, make sure personnel are aware of resources at their disposal (FAK locations, AED locations, etc.).
  • Make sure emergency services contact information is widely known. This is particularly important for crewmembers when on an international trip, as the emergency services phone number may not be the same as it is back home.
  • Outline who will accompany an injured or ill individual to the hospital.
  • Review emergency contact information with your team to make sure it is still accurate. Additionally, make sure your ERP is clear on who is authorized to contact and provide support to emergency contacts and families of affected individuals.
  • If a required crewmember is injured or ill while on a trip, make sure you have considerations on how to move the passengers, other crewmembers, and relocate the aircraft. This may involve flying in an additional supporting crewmember, coordinating with an airline, or utilizing a contract crewmember.

If your flight department is designed to support a corporate backing, make sure you develop these policies and procedures in conjunction with the parent company. The corporate side will most likely have established policies and procedures and/or a business continuity plan, and it is important that your procedures do not conflict. The coordination will also serve to reassure the corporate side that you have been researching and have a plan of action in place just in case an emergency occurs.

Lastly, plan a drill to practice these procedures and identify weak-points. Involve as many resources as you can, including your whole flight department, corporate personnel (if applicable), medical services, airport authorities, and emergency responders. This not only helps strengthen your plan, but also provides reassurance to your team as they have been trained to respond.

Need help with any of the above?  We would be happy to support you.  Contact us today.

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Traveling during an epidemic: keeping health and safety a priority

In recent years, the world has seen a number of epidemics: SARS in 2002, swine flu or H1N1 in 2009, the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016. Now, COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, is rapidly advancing across continents. Stores have been selling out of hand sanitizer, companies are taking steps to let employees work from home and are discouraging unnecessary travel, and industry events are being cancelled – even the Louvre has shut its doors to the public.

To prevent the spread of the disease, authorities have advised taking extra precautions when travelling. What does this mean for your operation? How can you prepare for an epidemic, and what measures can you take to mitigate concerns?

Vigilance before, during, and after your flight

If you can’t avoid travelling, there are a number of things to keep in mind.

1. Before your flight

Try to avoid flying into affected regions. If you have the option of meeting remotely, changing your destination, or delaying your meeting, you may save yourself a lot of trouble while also protecting yourself and loved ones from exposure.

If you can’t avoid the area, be sure that part of your preflight planning is to review what authorities are saying about health-related data in the region you’re flying into. Some useful resources are:

Your Flight Operations Manual can help you with your pre-flight planning research.

NOTE: If you are flying to regions with known COVID-19 infections, keep in mind that your crew and passengers may be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days upon return and prepare accordingly.


Make sure your crew and passengers have up to date vaccinations and that they are aware of which ones they have to acquire when travelling to a particular region.

Locate suitable and safe airports for an emergency landing in advance of the flight. If you’re flying over a remote area, like a polar or desert region, you may not have medical support readily available.

Finally, prepare and review your escape plan. In the event you would need to suddenly evacuate your crew and passengers from your destination, having a plan at hand will help you coordinate your steps to leave as quickly as possible while mitigating the risks of spreading the disease or becoming infected. You will want to consider factors such as flight crew becoming ill, potential limitations to airports of entry, and best practices upon landing. These procedures should be integrated into your Emergency Response Plan (ERP).

2. During your flight

When it comes to in-flight health and safety, there are a number of preventative measures you can take.

Most important during any kind of epidemic, including COVID-19, is to make sure you wash your hands frequently and correctly. Proper handwashing should be done with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds or long enough to sing Happy Birthday, or some of the suggestions from this viral Twitter thread.

In addition, bring additional supplies such as face masks, disinfectants and wipes, a disease kit, and keep your first-aid kit fully stocked. Check expiry dates! Take care when touching surfaces multiple people come into contact with, like now widely used touch screens, since some viruses can survive extended periods on common surfaces.

NOTE: For COVID-19, face masks are most effective when worn by someone who is suspected of being infected. If you believe a crew member or passenger has been infected, ensure they are provided with a face mask before non-infected individuals.


For catering, make sure food is kept at the right temperature and handled with gloves and utensils to prevent food poisoning and cross-contamination. Verify that any seals placed on food containers by the catering vendor are intact prior to consumption. Ensure that anyone handling food or dishes has washed their hands to prevent the spread of viruses.

3. Upon arrival

Once you’re in your destination country, keep an eye on the real-time developments by checking news updates. Maintain basic hygiene standards, such as washing your hands and keeping a safe distance from people who are showing symptoms. Try to avoid large crowds and consider limiting the number of places you visit and staying in your hotel or residence.

Keep the contact details of your crew and passengers on hand so you can reach out at a moment’s notice. Take the time to find out where local hospitals or emergency centers are. Finally, know your insurance policy, in case you need to be repatriated.

4. If someone falls ill

Despite taking precautions, one of your crew or passengers may still become sick. Whether it happens mid-flight or after you’ve landed, you need to know the necessary procedures. Normally, your ERP should cover this.

  • In the air

Your crew should know who is doing what when it comes to first aid. If you have a Flight Attendant present, you’ll have a little more flexibility than with a one or two-pilot crew. Know what to do in case a crew member is incapacitated.

Engage with a medical service provider, such as Medaire, for additional assistance.

Communicate with Air Traffic Control in case you need to schedule an emergency landing, or if you require medical equipment and personnel upon arrival. Keep your emergency procedures written down and available to use.

NOTE: If you suspect a specific infection like COVID-19, be sure to let ATC know so the airport of landing can prepare extra health-related measures if required. A number of large airports are developing quarantine procedures and locations.


  • On the ground – for flights and at home base

Have a set procedure in place identifying who will or can provide first aid and who will be responsible for calling emergency services. Although pilots generally have first aid training, look into providing this to your ground operations and maintenance teams as well. Being well-versed in your ERP can save precious minutes.

No matter the size of your operation, everyone should follow the same steps and procedures. A smaller company may have fewer resources readily available, but may be able to rely on third-party handlers to help out.

Vigilance for FBOs and ground operations

For operations on the ground, and Fixed Based Operators (FBOs), travel-related health is also an issue. FBOs are constantly receiving aircraft from around the world and their personnel are meeting and interacting with a multitude of people. There a few things your team should prepare for.

Ensure all employees frequently and properly wash hands. During viral outbreaks (such as the flu) consider alternatives to handshakes.

Have masks on hand so you can make them available to arriving crews and passengers, as requested.

If you are in an area at high risk of infection transmission, monitor your team for symptoms.

NOTE: If your operation is in an area with known COVID-19 infections and an employee begins to exhibit symptoms, have them wear a mask, seek medical attention, and avoid coming to work until a medical professional determines it is safe for them to return.


Lastly, you will want to prepare for potential staff shortages or temporary closings. If someone on your team becomes infected it may spread to multiple team members or health officials may force the closure of your office until it can be disinfected.

With the highly connected world of today, travel-related health concerns are likely here to stay. You can be ready for these types of situations by addressing them in your company’s Operations Manuals, Emergency Response Plan, and Safety Management System (SMS). Include these types of elements of risk in your Safety Risk Profile, your Incident / Hazard Reports, and Risk Assessments. Even if an outbreak hasn’t directly impacted your organization, it’s still an existing risk you can mitigate by evaluating its severity.

If you want to know more about how an SMS can help your organization, take a look at ARC, our Safety Management System software. Any questions? Contact us. We can help update your ERP, FOM, or IOM to cover these situations.

Emergency Response Plans in the Age of Social Media

With the emergence of social media, everyone can be a reporter. This means the release of information during a crisis has become a lot quicker. Emergency Response Plans (ERPs) must evolve to include a social media policy. Take a look at how you can use social media to your advantage, and how you can manage risks from other users?

The social media turning point

When the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 from Seoul to San Francisco crashed on the morning of July 6, 2013, the incident became a turning point for many companies regarding social media during an emergency. The news was online within seconds and spread like wildfire. Eyewitnesses, even passengers, had instantly taken to their mobiles to share the incident with the world. During the first hour alone, there were up to 50,000 tweets talking about Asiana Airlines. The companies involved were left scrambling to take control of the narrative. The concept of the “Golden Hour”, the time it took companies to assess the situation and activate an ERP, became a thing of the past.

When you decide to implement social media usage in your ERP, make sure it’s quick and easy to use, because you’ll have to execute the first steps immediately. Social media can be used either to the advantage or to the detriment of your operation. It’s important to understand how both sides work.

How to use social media to your advantage

Operators can use social media in two ways during a crisis:

  • To communicate to stakeholders and the public

Nowadays, posting a statement on social media is equivalent to releasing a press announcement. It’s good practice to use social media for regular updates to build trust, show transparency and establish yourself as the go-to entity for updates on the situation. Keep in mind that if you plan to participate in the investigation, any updates pertaining to the investigation you share will first need to be approved by the investigative authority (in the U.S., that is the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB).

  • To monitor news and rumors

Keep an eye on local news outlets around the area of the incident and online chatter. That way you can swiftly intervene in case of misinformation. There will likely be witness reports, photos and video of the incident, and lots of speculation in the absence of conclusive facts. Make sure you also follow the investigative authority’s social media accounts (for the NTSB, there’s the @ntsb_newsroom).

Smaller operators could use a third-party ERP provider to monitor these channels, as resources will potentially be tied up during an emergency.

The flip side of social media

While putting social media to good use, keep these potential risks in mind:

  • People outside your organization

Thanks to smartphones and social channels, anyone can be a reporter nowadays. What they choose to share about an incident that involves you; however, is often more likely to harm than help. If someone posts an image of the incident on social media, people may recognize faces, company logos, or aircraft registration numbers.

  • People inside your organization

Company employees need to be extremely careful about discussing the incident online. Information should come from one appointed source in an organization. Employees who don’t adhere to that rule, even on their personal accounts, could potentially harm those affected by the incident – including those involved or loved ones. For example, they might share the name of someone affected, making this information public before there has been a chance to notify that person’s family. They also run the risk of compromising the company’s ability to participate in the investigation should they release facts or speculation pertaining to the investigation, since their shared information would not be approved by the investigative authority. Finally, unvetted, unconfirmed rumors could seriously impact the company’s reputation.

How do you wisely implement social media in your ERP?

There are 4 things you should do to when developing policies regarding social media use during an emergency.

  • Set clear policies on social media. Prepare this well in advance and make sure your staff knows the rules inside out. What to do, what not to do, and how to handle questions. They should also be well-versed in deploying the ERP, as well as their role in it.
  • Appoint a communications officer. They’re responsible for working with the corporate office. If there’s no corporate office, they’re the one dealing with the media. Everything should come from one source, and one source only.
  • Twitter is the fastest social media channel, and the one most likely to be used in a crisis. Get on there, get monitoring, and know how to use the platform. If you want to be fully prepared, you can create Twitter lists of local news channels and airports of the regions your aircraft are flying to.
  • Coordinate with your HR and External Communications departments on these policies. Planning for an emergency begins long before anything goes wrong. Consider simulation exercises with all parties involved to train everyone on their role and the cooperation between them. Coordination will also ensure your company knows what to expect from the Flight Department to help avoid any surprises.

Our Emergency Response Plans have an incorporated social media policy. If you have any questions on how our ERPs work, feel free to reach out.

The First Step in an Emergency Every Operator Should Know [+ Free Emergency Notification Form]

The best time to prepare for emergencies is long before they happen. By rehearsing, you could save precious minutes, and possibly lives, instead of panicking.

Download our free Emergency Notification Form

After all, you never know how you’ll react when an emergency strikes. Will you be cool and collected in the face of potential casualties or will you let your emotions take hold, even though the incident may be as minor as a sprained ankle from a hangar slip or fall?

Here’s some things to consider to be prepared:

Know your ERP

In aviation, a variety of incidents can occur any time – and you may be the one being called on first. Having a well established Emergency Response Plan (ERP) (that you’ve tested with your team) will help to ensure you’ve learned ahead of time which steps to take, so there isn’t a crisis you can’t handle.

1. Identify the source

The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure the emergency is real. It helps if the source reporting it is reputable, such as a Rescue Coordination Center, NTSB, the FAA, or a similar organization. But if not, then you will want to gather as much information from the source as possible so your team can attempt to verify the report.

2. Gather details

Ask the caller for details. What exactly happened? Are you sure your aircraft is involved? What is the tail number? What is the time and location of the incident? What other details about the incident or aircraft can they share? There are key questions to ask, and remembering them all during an emergency is going to be difficult. It’s important to have a form available to your team so they can easily gather the information needed. Check out this free Emergency Notification Form you can download and use for your own organization.

3. Initiate your ERP

Who are you going to call? This would be the time to check your Emergency Response Plan (ERP) to see whom you need to alert.

What if you don’t have an ERP? Call the most senior flight department member available – and make a note to get an ERP once this is all over – it will make handling future situations like these so much easier.

4. Rally your team

Keep communications lines open. Has anyone been in touch with the people involved in the incident? Don’t stop at passengers and crew, but consider maintenance and other staff also – especially if the incident occurred in or around the hangar. If it’s serious enough, be prepared to notify friends and family.

Consider who may be involved in the incident and the people available to assist with a response. This may include uninjured team members near the site; federal, state, or local law enforcement or emergency personnel; or even passengers who are able to provide you with information. Your ERP may also direct you to bring in other team members such as maintenance personnel or dispatchers, who can provide technical and background information relevant to the situation.

What if it seems like a minor issue?

Even if it seems like a minor incident, rather than an accident, you should still call the next person in the ERP phone tree. This gives the responsible parties the opportunity to determine the level of response they would like to take and, if things progress further, it will be quick to fully activate the ERP if needed.

What about a false alarm?

Even if the incident or threat seems to be a false alarm, you should still let management know about it. They can then make the final determination about the incident and decide if they wish to further investigate why a call was made in the first place.

When should you report it to the NTSB?

Although not all types of aircraft incidents need to be reported to the NTSB, you may be surprised at those you should.

For example, a lithium battery fire during flight successfully handled with a fire bag with no injuries, must still be reported as an in-flight fire.

Have a look at the 49 CFR Part 830.5 list to see which emergencies to report.

Final essentials

Make sure your contact lists are always up-to-date and easily accessible: distribute print-outs and keep the list by the phone. You may want to have your team store critical, but non-confidential, numbers in their personal phones.

Here’s some advice on what to include in your ERP. Got any questions about our Emergency Response Plan service? Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Download our free Emergency Notification Form