Business Aviation Insider

May 1, 2017

For many years, the link between safety and professionalism in business aviation was merely assumed. Certainly, both concepts have always been viewed as essential, but now the NBAA Safety Committee and NBAA Business Aviation Management Committee – in an effort to not only further reduce the industry’s accident rate, but also to set a high bar on personal conduct – have been working to communicate to everyone in business aviation how important linking these two concepts is.

Safety management programs and systems are essential to all aspects of business aviation operations. Their well-structured nature offers a predictable path toward the goal of hazard recognition, mitigation and control. However, unless they are taken seriously – and actively and continuously pursued by everyone involved – they become just another ”program of the week.“ When safety programs are the highest priority of dedicated, responsible and concerned individuals, they will yield positive results. That’s why the professionalism of the individuals involved in safety management is so important.

Jeff Wofford, director of aviation for CommScope and the NBAA Safety Committee’s Professionalism Working Group lead, notes: “A good safety program demands professionalism; without it, the safety program becomes a difficult exercise. This goes for all members of the flight department, not just the pilots and managers. Our group has been working on this issue for some time, and we have come to realize the importance of linking professionalism with all aspects of safety within the flight department.”


But first, what exactly is professionalism in business aviation? The NBAA Professionalism Working Group defines the concept as ”the pursuit of excellence through discipline, ethical behavior and continuous improvement.“

Second, why do we need to connect the concept of professionalism to some of the excellent safety programs we have in aviation today? Simply because standard operating procedures, safety management systems and industry best practices are not always being properly employed or adhered to within the business aviation community.

While business aviation’s accident record for multi-crew turbojet aircraft is enviable and comparable to that of the major airlines, the industry still experiences accidents, incidents and regulatory violations. Unstable approaches, runway excursions and incursions, airspace violations, ATC procedural errors, maintenance errors, personal injuries and scheduling mishaps have become less frequent over the years, but they continue to take their toll. And, to a lesser extent, personnel discipline issues, conflicts with management and passengers, and poor relations with company headquarters are often rooted in unprofessional conduct.

Personal failings often lead to safety lapses. Procedural non-compliance, cutting corners, not fully understanding a situation, distractions, pressure from managers or passengers, fatigue, and poor crew-resource management are often listed as causal or contributing factors to incidents and accidents. More fundamentally, the basic character, personality and makeup of individuals involved in unsafe, unethical, disruptive acts can compromise safety.

Dr. Tony Kern, CEO of Convergent Performance, LLC, and author of several books on safety and professionalism, maintains, ”You should professionalize safety first and then work your way into other operational and organizational aspects. Professionalism should be linked with a passion for your job, attempting to constantly improve your performance and that of the organization. This is done by putting forth your best effort every time, all the time. Continuous improvement is the key.

“Professionalism is a progressive effort,” continued Kern, “beginning with joining the profession, following the rules, becoming a fully engaged expert at your job, and trying to improve every day. After you become comfortable with your abilities, then pass on what you’ve learned to others by becoming a mentor.”


Of course, individuals should bring many professional characteristics with them into the workplace. Certain positive personal traits – integrity, honesty, responsibility, excellent performance, maturity, initiative, etc. – are really the fundamentals of professionalism and should have been learned prior to accepting the job.

There are a number of courses available, but good leaders and role models, personal discipline and a strong desire to continuously excel in all tasks will also move you toward the professionalism goal.

Dave Ryan Chair, NBAA Safety Committee

Each of these is essential to planning and executing any task to the best level of individual performance. Since high-level job and safety performance are built on these traits, they should be a part of each employee’s makeup prior to joining the organization. If they are not fully developed in an individual, they should be learned rapidly through assimilation of the corporate culture and emulating the professionals within the organization.

Without the proper background, training, discipline, motivation and ethical considerations being practiced by the individuals crewing, maintaining and scheduling business aircraft, professionalism will likely be lacking and safety may be compromised. Also, operating efficiency and organizational excellence will likely suffer. However, these characteristics can be taught and learned.


Is it possible to find a course or school that will teach professionalism?

Dave Ryan, NBAA Safety Committee Chair and manager of a West Coast flight department, says, “There are a number of courses available, but good leaders and role models, personal discipline and a strong desire to continuously excel in all tasks will also move you toward the professionalism goal. Create and sign on to your own personal pledge that leads to truly professional behavior. Ideally, find your own professional role model and follow their lead.”

For pilots, exposure to professional influences and tasks such as formal recurrent training; NBAA seminars, workshops, conferences and other events; safety meetings; participation on NBAA committees; and taking leadership and management courses, all provide good professional information and opportunities to meet others with similar interests.

For maintenance technicians, initial and recurrent training courses, manufacturers’ type- and equipment-specific updates, management and safety training, and leadership seminars can provide professional building blocks.

Schedulers and dispatchers have similar opportunities to grow into their profession by participating in many of the same type of courses offered for pilots and technicians. NBAA’s annual Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference is a key educational event. Similarly, flight attendants can attend NBAA’s Flight Attendants/Flight Technicians Conference.

NBAA’s Professional Development Program offers many courses that provide insights into the characteristics that define the aviation professional. In addition, NBAA’s Certified Aviation Manager certification program offers virtually everything an aviation manager would need to know in order to be an industry professional.

Experts endorse the concept of training as a path that leads to becoming a true professional. But they also emphasize the need to find a role model – a leader and accomplished professional, ideally within the same organization – who exemplifies professionalism and provides someone to follow and learn from.


Remember, true professionals must exhibit the characteristics of professionalism to be worthy of the name. More importantly, the goals of constant improvement – for both the individual and the organization – must always be pursued. While personal and organizational improvement are worthy objectives for the true professional, the ultimate goal is operational safety for all within the organization. Professionalism makes it happen.

Review NBAA’s professionalism resources


  • Technical competence
  • Dedication to task and organization
  • Continuous improvement
  • Safety orientation
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Discipline
  • Accountability

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Business Aviation Insider. Download the magazine app for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.