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.

AviationManuals Reports Operators Used Lull in Flying to Improve Operations

Company Sees First Half Demand Rise Amid Flight Restrictions

Washington, D.C., July 27, 2020 – Washington-based AviationManuals, the world’s leading provider of digital manual development services and Safety Management System (SMS) software for business aviation, reported strong demand in the first half of 2020. The demand was the result of flight departments taking advantage of reduced flight schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic to improve their operations by implementing SMS software and improving or developing operations manuals.

“We have had surprisingly robust demand in 2020, especially considering the negative effects the pandemic has had on business aviation activity overall,” said AviationManuals CEO Mark Baier. “Operators showed a lot of initiative and foresight using the additional time they had available to review and improve the way they operate,” he added.

As the pandemic continues to spread, operators are recognizing the need for better support tools to help manage the new and unique impacts of COVID-19. Several AviationManuals’ product categories including Health Travel Preparedness, Organizational Changes and Metrics Reporting have all seen increases in demand over recent months.

“Our advisors have been remarkably busy helping flight departments and FBOs, particularly with ARC SMS software and emergency response plans. Many operators also took the time to develop and update their flight operations and maintenance manuals,” Baier added.

Compared to 2019, the first half of 2020 saw considerably increased business requirements for digital flight department tools as companies continue to seek to improve the way they operate. The first half expansion followed exceptionally strong growth last year as companies continued to improve the way they operate.

New Products and Complimentary Pandemic Resources

The market strength in the first six months of 2020 allowed the company to grow its team and improve its offerings with new Risk Assessment Tool features, a new Maintenance Manual, as well as an enhanced ERP. AviationManuals’ growing team also allowed it to support the industry by providing complimentary resources for flight, ground, and FBO operations through a series of complimentary whitepapers and guides. The aim was to help operators deal with this pandemic as well as future unforeseen crises.

Clients Operate 4,500 Aircraft Around the World

With a client base that operates more than 4,500 aircraft worldwide, more than 60 Fortune 100 companies use AviationManuals’ services. Based in the Washington, D.C. area, the company provides digital operations manuals with update services, as well as SMS software and iPad apps for fixed-wing, rotary-wing, drone operators, and FBOs worldwide. Founded in 1996, the company has produced thousands of manuals.

Products and services include SMS Software, Flight/Company/General Operations Manuals, International Operations/Procedures Manuals, Minimum Equipment Lists (MELs), Emergency Response Plans (ERPs), FBO Manuals and Internal Audit Programs, as well as Letters of Authorization (LOA) support for RVSM, Data Link (CPDLC / ADS-C), PBN (RNP-10 / -4, NAT HLA, B-/P-RNAV, and RNP-1), Enhanced Flight Vision Systems (EFVS), and EFBs.

AviationManuals is a member of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), and the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). For more info go to https://aviationmanuals.com/.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photos

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.

Change Happens. Be Ready for It.

Change Management goes beyond dress code policies, onboarding new employees or simply implementing new procedures – especially in aviation. So how do you ensure your flight operations department is ready for the inevitable changes it will face in the near and/or long term? You need to have a sound change management plan in place.

What is Change Management?

Change Management is a term used to describe the process for organizations to review all aspects of a potential change, develop an action plan to implement the change, and then execute the plan while mitigating risk. The basic change management process flow should include:

  • Identification and assessment of a change and associated risks
  • Development of a plan to implement a change and mitigate risks
  • Implementation of the plan across the department
  • Review and reassess the new level of risk of the department as a whole after the change

For business aviation, managing operational changes can range from a change in equipment, to bringing maintenance in-house, to revamping your home base. Additionally, it’s not just new stuff that fosters the need for a solid change management plan. It is also critical to have a process for your team to seamlessly follow when operational changes happen to existing protocols or procedures.

Existing operational changes can include shifts in your clients’ travel profiles or an airport implementing new apron protocols. Anything that can affect your operation.

It’s Time to Make Change Easier

For many years, change management was not a focal point for most operations, but during the past two years, its importance has become more appreciated. This is due in part to more and more operators adopting a Safety Management System (SMS) and realizing that change management is an integral part of SMS.

For business aviation pilots and flight departments, adopting change management procedures can be easier than for a commercial operator, since business and general aviation operators tend to have smaller, less complex operations. That’s good news, because it means that the implementation of a change management plan can be easier and faster.

In fact, it is critical for smaller operations to adopt a change management plan early on, as it can provide a sound foundation and ultimately one less thing to have to consider when an unexpected situation arises.  Smaller departments or single-pilot operators have to juggle multiple responsibilities, unlike larger flight departments that may have more staff to whom they can distribute operational responsibilities. This makes having a change management system all the more important. But this doesn’t mean larger flight departments should neglect change management planning. They can also benefit from effective change management in order to help streamline the dissemination of procedural changes throughout the various departments.

In general, there is a growing list of drivers that can increase the need for proper change management. Whereas personnel changes, such as new hires, role changes or loss of personnel along with aircraft changes were often the traditional focus of change management, as flight departments formalize, new factors have become equally important. Changes to flight profiles, a change of base or hangar, any changes at familiar airport destinations, changes with maintenance, changes with scheduling / administrative software, changes to passengers, new passengers, pets, children, cargo, etc. can all trigger a need for an effective change management process.

How to Start the Change Management Process

Operational changes will often go deeper than just superficial procedural alterations. They may impact everyone in your department along with your Safety Management System (SMS), Operations Manuals, procedures, and risk profiles. There is a lot to consider during the first step of the process. Here are a few questions you can start with:

  • What is the nature of the change itself? Is this an isolated, one-off or broad, systemic change?
  • What are the possible risks/hazards associated with the change?
  • Will it impact training or other administrative tasks?
  • Will there be any impact to your hangar environment or ground handling operations?
  • What effects will the change have on scheduling and dispatching?
  • Will it affect restrictions on duties or duty times?
  • What operating, personnel, or pilot experience restrictions should be considered? (regulatory and company imposed)
  • Are there new regulatory requirements that the department needs to be made aware of (including State of Registry, State of Operations, and local governing bodies)?
  • Will the change affect your passengers?
  • How will your team feel about the change?

Establishing a change management procedure will give your team and fellow managers a solid framework for making change easier to implement. A little bit of planning can save a lot of grief and potential risk introduction later on.

Have questions or need help with change management? AviationManuals can provide you with a process and web based form that easily guides you through the different steps you have to take every time change happens. Contact our experts today.

EFVS: The what and why of Enhanced Flight Vision System

There is no doubt that when you can enhance what pilots can see on approach, especially in inclement weather conditions, you can greatly reduce the risk of accidents or incidents.

In 2017, the FAA introduced an enhanced flight vision system (EFVS) rule. This helped increase the use of vision system technologies, which aim to assist safer landings by virtually eliminating low-visibility conditions.

EFVS explained

But what exactly is EFVS? Enhanced Flight Vision System is an aircraft system that uses a type of heads-up display and imaging sensors to present information to the pilot, such as aircraft information, flight symbology combined with an electronic real-time sensor image of the forward external scene.

In essence, EFVS provides the pilot with a second pair of highly-enhanced eyes. The EFVS, installed on most midsize and large business jets, will show the pilot artificially displayed elements on top of real-world views, such as the horizon and runway – not unlike a video game.

Pioneered by NASA in the late nineties, and then further developed by business jet and avionics manufacturers, EFVS is becoming increasingly widespread which will hopefully drive down pricing allowing the benefits of this technology to find its way into more aircraft. Now, military requirements are driving further EFVS innovations, which in time should then become standard on general and commercial aircraft as well.

What are the benefits of EFVS?

The technology allows pilots to land safely at airports even in limited visibility due to haze, smog, smoke, fog, or simply darkness. This can help minimize delays and prevent aircraft from being rerouted. Most importantly, it greatly reduces the likelihood of runway incidents and potentially accidents.

EFVS Operations

There are two types of EFVS:

  • EFVS Operations to 100 feet above TDZE

In this case, EFVS is only activated when descending below Decision Altitude/ Decision Height (DA/DH) to 100 feet above the Touchdown Zone (TDZE). From 100 feet onwards to the TDZE, you must use natural vision.

  • EFVS Operations to Touchdown and Rollout

Alternatively, EFVS from Operations to Touchdown and Rollout allows you to activate EFVS from descent below DA/DH, until the plane reaches normal taxi speed.

Do I need an LOA for EFVS?

While a Letter of Authorization (LOA) for EFVS is not required within the United States, it is often mandatory when flying internationally, especially in the EU.

To make sure that you can use all of your EFVS capabilities when flying abroad, apply for the LOA so you’re covered.

We can help

To make things easy, we can help prepare all the required LOA documentation you’ll need to present to the FAA. Part-135 Operators should bear in mind that they also need to send the FAA an evaluation plan.

Our new EFVS Operations Manual makes the entire process even simpler. We cover procedures for EFVS to 100 feet above TDZE, as well as touchdown and rollout.

Have questions? Contact our experts.


5 Elements Every SMS Program Should Have

An SMS, especially when paired with SMS software, should provide you with a way to track a range of information and occurrences in your operation, allowing you to identify and track recurring trends. Such insight enables you to determine which improvements are needed and how you can mitigate risks.

Read the full article on ARC