April 27, 2020

How do you maintain your safety standards and audit accreditation during the COVID-19 crisis? Will virtual audits be the norm after COVID-19 is contained? These were just two of the questions addressed by a panel of experts during a recent NBAA News Hour webinar that provided aircraft operators guidance regarding renewing safety audit credentials or obtaining an extension while stay-at-home orders and significant travel restrictions are in place.

The experts noted that virtual auditing requires additional coordination between the operator, the auditor and standard-setting organization to ensure a productive audit experience. In most cases, operators choose the platform for sharing manuals and records, and conducting video interviews and facility or aircraft tours.

If an operator is due for renewal but is unable to schedule a virtual audit or simply prefers an on-site audit at a later date, the experts encourage the operator to contact their safety standard organization to discuss the possibility of extending their registration date.

Even if operators decided to proceed with a virtual audit, the experts agree that using video interviews and discussions “lose something,” versus in-person audit procedures. However, Bennet Walsh, director of International Standard for Business Aircraft Operators (IS-BAO) program at the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), says he’s been surprised by the creativity of some operators in providing information to auditors.

“Preparation is always going to be key,” added Allison Markey, senior director of audit programs at Wyvern Ltd., saying that a test run of the technology to be used by the team involved in the audit is a best practice. Walsh agrees, suggesting that operators do proper due diligence to verify that the security provided by an information-sharing platform is adequate.

Where might virtual auditing fit in a post-COVID world? Although virtual auditing can be worthwhile and valuable, operators shouldn’t expect to see virtual auditing as a long-term plan.

“I don’t think we can ever do away with the face-to-face audit going forward,” said Terry Yeomans, IBAC’s director of International Standard for Business Aircraft Handlers (IS-BAH) program. “This is our contingency plan.”

Walsh, however, said the IS-BAO program is considering virtual auditing as an option for recurrent or progressive Stage 3 audits. Also, in the post-COVID era, virtual auditing might also be useful for audits in more remote geographic areas or in regions of the world experiencing conflict or other challenges.

Virtual auditing and oversight in the future might not just be limited to safety standards organizations. Doug Carr, NBAA’s vice president of regulatory and international affairs, who moderated the virtual audit webinar, noted that many national aviation regulatory authorities are considering opportunities for virtual oversight. Markey believes current virtual safety-auditing experiences might provide a framework for regulatory agencies to consider.

This webinar, titled “The Value of Virtual Audits During and After COVID-19,” is just one in a series of educational opportunities NBAA has planned for the coming weeks. Learn more, register for upcoming webinars and view recordings of past webinars on the NBAA News Hour site.