Preparing and undergoing an audit can be very stressful for an operator, but it shouldn’t be. Whatever type of audit you are undergoing, you will want it to be successful. The best advice I can give operators is to thoroughly prepare for the audit.
There are three stages to an audit: pre-audit, on-site audit and post-audit. Timing is essential, so you want to start planning early. This means the operator needs to complete a pre-audit protocol or checklist well in advance of the audit. Schedule conference calls with the auditor early. Try to schedule the on-site visit during slow times, if possible. Make sure all key personnel will be available for the audit. Set up a time for an in-brief and out-brief. Make sure all employees know the auditor will be on location and will be asking many questions to pilots, line service workers, dispatch, mechanics, reservation takers and other administrative personnel. Ensure all discrepancies from your last audit are resolved. The post-audit will involve completing the paperwork and any follow-up.
Don’t let price drive decisions when choosing an auditor. Look for someone who is accredited by an organization and meets your type of operation with experience and knowledge. Complete a contract with the auditor so you know what you are paying for and what you will be getting.
Audits involve every area of an organization — management, safety, maintenance, flight operations and coordination, ground support personnel, training, Emergency Response Plan (ERP), security, aircraft mission requirements, operations manuals, and management of change.
I always like to have a tour of the facility prior to the in-brief. This gives me the opportunity to observe how people are doing their jobs and to ask questions in a conversational atmosphere. Also, it is normal for the auditor to take many pictures during the audit.
The auditor wants to inspect the safety policy letter to ensure it is signed by the accountable executive and see if safety is promoted throughout the organization. The auditor also wants to know if the accountable executive accepts accountability for the organization’s safety performance and that the operator has an organization structure that defines qualifications, duties, authorities and accountabilities.
It’s imperative that a trained safety director is identified to perform safety duties. The auditor wants to see how risks are managed, including hazard identification, tracking and analyzation process. The auditor sees if safety initiatives are measured for effectiveness. The auditor also looks to see if human factors and fatigue training are conducted. Safety training should be planned, conducted and documented for all personnel, not just for pilots and mechanics.
The auditor looks at technical publications and manuals to ensure the company maintains and follows a published fuel quality program, tool control program and a written maintenance quality assurance program. In addition, the auditor wants to see mechanic qualifications, training, staffing and crew-rest documentation.
Emergencies are not times to test an ERP. There should be a formal program that addresses all tasks that will be required in case the plan needs to be activated. Copies of this plan should be available in all needed areas, such as dispatch and flight operations. Red binders with this information are a good idea.
Though it’s the chief pilot working with the auditor, most auditors also want to talk with line pilots to see how they manage risk. This will include pilot qualifications, crew rest, staffing and training records. Auditors want to see how recurrent training is conducted.
Audits can add value for the operator to measure safety management effort effectiveness. Choose an auditor who is not only certified but also actually active in the aviation industry. There are many audit programs available; choose one. It’s important that you have an outside professional’s “set of eyes” look at your organization. If you do your planning properly, you will be happy with the results. Remember, prepare, prepare, prepare. As always, take action to fly safe! RWI