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Safety and Sustainability Go Hand in Hand

Safety and sustainability may seem like separate topics, but in fact, experts say they’re increasingly interrelated.

“Safety and sustainability are getting a lot of attention now. Sustainability is basically where we were with safety in the 1990s,” said Darryl Young, director of international trip planning at AEG Fuels. “Then, we didn’t think there would be much regulatory or other impact on Part 91 operations regarding safety.”

Much like earlier perspectives on safety, some people only see the costs associated with sustainability or, consider it a political issue.

“Sustainability is a similar story that safety was back then. No one wants to increase their costs, but we need to show the value of the flight department,” Young said.

Motivation to support sustainability often comes from leadership, which could feel pressure to move quickly, but it’s important to assess the risk from change, said Stewart D’Leon, CAM, NBAA director of environmental and technical operations. “Sustainability efforts should trigger your SMS risk assessment and change management processes.”

Small operational changes can have a big impact on sustainability and can result in increased efficiency, a win-win situation. Consider reviewing policies around flight planning standards, such as cruise speeds and levels, optimizing for fuel burn versus time enroute. Create an APU use policy before and after flights. Before making changes, consider the safety impacts and conduct a risk assessment, said Bas de Bruijn, a member of NBAA’s Environmental Subcommittee.

“Sustainability is becoming increasingly more important, however, safety must never be compromised or overlooked.”

Bas de Bruijn Member, NBAA Environmental Subcommittee

Purchasing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is one completely safe step towards making a flight department sustainable. SMS risk analysis processes can demonstrate the safety of SAF.

Erik Dagley, who’s also a member of NBAA’s Environmental Subcommittee, ran a detailed risk assessment for his organization about future technologies, products and processes.

Dagley considered the enterprise level and operations level, with operations split into flight and ground functions. His efforts uncovered very few risks to adopting sustainability efforts. At the enterprise level, the only risks are financial – that is, additional expenses. For operations, one example he identified is a pilot being forced to fly into an airport with SAF to meet sustainability goals but the airport is unfamiliar or atypically large.

“Even that isn’t a considerable risk,” said Dagley. “I went so far as to ask if we are introducing products to the aircraft cabin that introduce new risk to the waste system or aircraft interior. After that level of review, I could not come up with anything that would have any impact on safety.”

Dagley acknowledges ground operations are a little different. For example, utilizing an electric tug without a robust enough electrical system could create risks.

“The only real effect of any tangible initiative currently available in the short term is just money,” said Dagley. “So much of aviation is already highly regulated, including new technology, that risk mitigation has already happened prior to getting to you.”

Overall, most sustainability initiatives have – at worst – a neutral impact on safety.

“Sustainability is becoming increasingly important; however, safety must never be compromised or overlooked,” de Bruijn said.

Learn about creating a sustainable flight department at

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