No one in the aviation industry likes to talk about aircraft accidents. We prefer to point to aviation’s exemplary safety record. Statistically, it’s true that flying in an airplane is far safer than riding in a car, and getting safer all the time. But the reality is that aircraft accidents do happen. Sometimes the result is just “ramp rash” – no one gets hurt, the damage to the aircraft is relatively minor, somebody’s insurance pays for the repairs, and the aircraft is soon returned to service. But then there are the statistically few terrible events that end in injury or death.
Many owners simply are not prepared for the worst. And hardly anyone wants to think about it. Yet, your business, your employees, your crew, and your family will be better protected when you plan ahead.
Every company or individual business aircraft owner should have a well-thought-out, comprehensive Emergency Response Plan (ERP). If you lease your airplane to a Part 135 charter operator, you may assume you don’t need an ERP because the aircraft management company already has one. Verifying that one is indeed in place, and having a copy, is a good start, but not enough.
Each aircraft accident is unique, and may involve a number of people, often at a remote location. Since you cannot anticipate what will happen, or where, or who might be involved, it’s not possible to create a “one-size-fits-all” ERP. Yet, all accidents have a number of commonalities:
- They generally result in immediate and significant scrutiny from multiple agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, local law enforcement and fire departments, and airport authorities.
- They also attract a high degree of media attention and public awareness. This is especially true if any of the passengers has a high public profile. Your PR department would face an unprecedented challenge.
- The significant human and capital loss would cause enormous disruption to your company, employees, and clients or customers, and raise continuity questions you need to be prepared to answer.
The moment of crisis is not the time to develop an ERP. Make preparations before you ever need them, hoping you never will.
What Should Your ERP Include?
As you create your plan, consider:
- What would you do when the media gets your name from the FAA’s online aircraft registry and calls you to ask about the accident that’s just occurred involving your airplane?
- Exactly what does your (and/or your management company’s) insurance cover? Are you certain? Who is your insurer and what does its representative suggest you incorporate into your ERP?
- How would you first respond if corporate officers or employees are aboard the aircraft?
- Accurate information is critical. How will you obtain and verify the actual facts of an accident?
Failure to handle an accident properly can make a bad situation much worse and have serious and lasting consequences for a company, its image, and its financial bottom line.
Once Your Plan Is In Place
Once you have a plan in place, it’s not enough to simply keep it in a binder on the shelf. Aircraft owners should periodically conduct ERP drills, and everyone in the company who might conceivably have any role in responding to an accident, including the receptionist who gets the initial telephone call, should participate in the rehearsals. Everyone should know what – and what not – to do and say.
Work with your aviation attorney, insurance carrier, public relations and communications team, marketing firm, and, most importantly, your aircraft management personnel, to develop an ERP. Start the process as soon as the aircraft acquisition closes, if not sooner. It’s time and money well invested and will give you peace of mind that you’re prepared if the worst-case nightmare should ever become a reality. BAA
Stephen Hofer is President and founder of the Aerlex Law Group. For 37 years, he has specialized in aviation, corporate, commercial and employment law, and is a frequent speaker to organizations in the aviation industry.