Business Aviation Insider

Understanding how the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations is changing is key to appreciating its value.

Sept. 26, 2016

Launched in 2002 by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and its member associations, with key leadership from NBAA, the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), which promotes the use of best operating practices among business aircraft operators, has been adopted by more than 700 operators in 35 countries worldwide.

In the 14 years since its inception, IS-BAO has evolved along with changes in the industry as a result of the positive influence of IBAC and its 14 member associations, including NBAA. Evolution is inevitable in such a longstanding program, but sometimes with progress comes misunderstanding in the very industry the program is meant to support. Some of the common misperceptions about the program will be dispelled here.


For small flight departments, but that’s not the case for Harley-Davidson, where the flight department consists of two airplanes and 10 people.

“Our flight department is a manufacturing unit – we manufacture safety, security, quality, reliability and efficiency,” said Jad Donaldson, the company’s director of aviation. “We try to be conservative and fiscally responsible, but [we also] want to be the best in the industry we can be, so we invest a lot in our people on the Harley-Davidson team, and IS-BAO has been a big part of that investment.”

For Harley-Davidson, that meant dedicating resources to pursuing IS-BAO registration, and continuing its development to reach Stage 3, the program’s highest level of certification.

In fact, many single-aircraft flight departments have achieved IS-BAO registration at all levels because flight department and safety managers believe it pro-vides needed structure for a small flight department. For example, small flight departments say that the change-management process outlined in IS-BAO can be incredibly beneficial.

The complexity of IS-BAO is driven partly by the complexity of the operation. The simpler the operation, the simpler the process for IS-BAO registration. Small flight departments should have a program that is different than that of a multi-aircraft, large department.

“IS-BAO is the framework,” said a chief pilot of one single-aircraft department. “Exactly how your department complies with that framework is up to you.”

“A structured change-management process is hugely beneficial, even for a small flight department,” the chief pilot added. “The biggest hurdle [in achieving IS-BAO registration] was documenting what we do, but there are several tools to help flight departments with that process.”


Managers of IS-BAO-registered departments recommend that small flight departments use all the tools available to help achieve IS-BAO registration. IBAC, NBAA and outside vendors have a number of resources to help set up safety management systems, document policies and procedures, and complete required training.


Some operators believe it recently got harder to obtain or maintain IS-BAO registration, especially Stage 3 registration. Sonnie Bates, IBAC’s IS-BAO program director, explained the likely reason for this misperception: In recent years, starting in around 2010, IS-BAO adoption has grown very quickly, so IBAC formalized some of its auditor tools to clarify and standardize requirements for Stage 3 registration. At the same time, the industry as a whole has advanced in areas like safety performance indicators and flight data analysis.

Stage 3 goes beyond establishing policies and procedures. It really becomes a philosophy. It’s a continuing process, with clear objectives supported by the organization’s leadership team.

DAVID NIGRI Director of Corporate Aviation, Textron Inc.

“It’s a constant process to stay on top of the protocols and how they change over time to reflect industry best practices,” said Elizabeth Dornak, a flight department manager whose company was an early adopter of IS-BAO. She involves her entire team in IS-BAO audit preparation, analyzing any new requirements and deter-mining the value-added of those new requirements.

Have the IS-BAO standards changed over the past several years? Absolutely. But the aviation industry as a whole is evolving as well. The IS-BAO protocols have changed as a result, maintaining its intent to be a collection of best practices.

“We’ve [as an industry] defined the criteria for Stage 3 registration within the IS-BAO program,” said Textron Inc.’s Director of Corporate Aviation David Nigri. “But what are we ultimately looking to do? We’re looking to have industry best practices, which will always require improvement and changes.”

IBAC’s Bates advises that if someone is unclear about the IS-BAO process, specific protocols or other aspects of the program, they should contact IBAC, or reach out to flight departments with experience in the program – something IBAC can help coordinate. Most IS-BAO participants are passionate about it, and are ready to share their insights with other flight departments.


IS-BAO Stage 3 registration is often thought of as “the end” of the process, the final trophy in a flight operation’s work to implement best practices. Some people mistakenly believe that after Stage 3 has been achieved, all that’s required is to simply maintain some basic standards, and do a little preparation to get ready for the next renewal audit.

Harley-Davidson’s Jad Donaldson and Textron’s David Nigri say this isn’t the case.

“Getting to Stage 3 just gets you to the point where you have the building blocks in place to continue to evolve as a flight department,” said Donaldson. “At this point, your policies, procedures, manuals and so on are in good shape, but there’s still work to be done.”

The aviation industry as a whole is evolving and changing. The IS-BAO protocols have changed as a result, maintaining its intent to be a collection of best practices.

Donaldson’s team considers new technologies and new tools to determine if they can be applied to their flight department. Then Harley-Davidson builds the technologies and tools into the model of their flight department as a business unit. For example, the company is considering participation in an aviation safety action program, and is implementing various security improvements, especially for international trips.

“Stage 3 goes beyond establishing policies and procedures,” added Nigri. “It really becomes a philosophy. It’s a continuing process, with clear objectives supported by the organization’s leadership team, refining systems and processes, and always learning.”

IBAC’s Sonnie Bates agreed, stating: “Reaching Stage 3 is part of the journey, it’s not crossing a finish line and then it’s over. Aviation managers should ask themselves, ‘What is our organizational culture and how do we continue pursuing excellence?’”

Bates also suggests flight departments look at the technical aspects of the industry; he notes that many Stage 3 operators are not using safety performance indicators and targets, in part because some Stage 3 operators obtained that status before the industry began utilizing flight data analyses and other key safety-performance indicators related to safety culture.

“Business aircraft operators that do not utilize flight-data analysis programs are not tapping into the technical capabilities of analyzing safety data,” said Bates. “These programs differentiate good performance from exceptional performance.”

Organizational culture also is a key aspect of life beyond Stage 3. For example, the Harley-Davidson and Textron flight departments focus on personal development and leadership through industry participation.

“We believe we have a duty to each other to keep our industry evolving,” said Donaldson. “As an industry, we are all measured by the least-common denominator. We want to grow our people in the department by injecting them into the industry, because we believe in what the industry has to offer.”

After attending industry events or training opportunities, each Harley-Davidson flight department employee shares their experience and training with the rest of the department.

Bates also recommends industry participation as a way to continue to grow after achieving Stage 3 registration. He believes Stage 3 departments are a “value to the larger industry, not just to their own department. These flight departments are often in the public eye, and can have a positive influence on the industry to help others manage risk and improve their cultures.”