Friday, March 1, 2013
Offshore Notebook: Alas! The Auditor Cometh
My subject for this month is audits, auditors and who they are. A long-time acquaintance and neighbor—he lives 35 miles away, but that qualifies in Texas—Richard Landrum, owns AirWing Aviation Consultants and is an IS-BAO (International Standards for Business Aircraft Operations) certified auditor. He performs safety audits for various clients throughout the world, specializing in helicopter operations, but is fully qualified to do fixed as well as rotary wing. He is just one of a number of individuals and companies who do this type of work.
Recently we spent some time together and being curious, I asked him to explain what he does during an audit and why he does them. Richard began by saying his motivation for this work is not financial in that he has a good retirement package from a major corporation and he considers earnings from his auditing work as supplemental. What he does consider of great importance is making a contribution to an industry that has served him well over many years. By saving lives and saving aircraft, using his education, training, knowledge and experience, a great deal of personal satisfaction is derived knowing that his input has elevated not just the operator’s standards but he may have aided the industry to move forward toward its safety goals.
Of course we all know what audits are, whether they be financial or operational. Who has not worried about an IRS audit and the horror stories associated with them. An aviation audit can also be stressful if not performed in a manner that can alleviate a potentially threatening atmosphere. A good auditor will rather promote the idea that tweaking your operation will lesson your liabilities and maybe even increase your bottom line. A really good one will leave you with the feeling that the auditor is actually part of your safety team.
AirWing starts the auditing process by contacting the company or the operator’s contracted company well in advance of the actual visit. They mail a prepared questionnaire that is about 30 pages long, two to three weeks in advance of their arrival. Airwing requests that they complete and return it so that they can get a feel for the operation. They also ask for copies of core documents like the operations manual, safety manual and maintenance manual. Early on there is an agreement as to the standards to be used.
There is no advance time limit for the process. Time needed is usually dependent upon the size of the operation and perhaps the amount of detail demanded by the customer.
I mentioned IS-BAO earlier as the source of AirWing’s certification. That organization can be considered generic in the sense that it is an information platform for just about any company that provides aviation flight services, whether it operates under FAR Part 91 or 135. In its most basic form it presents a code of best practices for operating business aircraft but is also a vehicle for compliance with ICAO Annex 6, Part II requirements for operating in other countries other than the United States. It covers some 14 areas of operations such as safety, maintenance procedures, personnel and training. They present a course for training auditors in such subjects as standards, safety management systems (SMS), risk assessment and mitigation techniques and audit processes. Of even greater significance for offshore helicopter operations in support of the energy industry are the Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) Aircraft Management Guidelines (AMG). If you wish to set up shop as an auditor here on the Gulf—or anywhere in the world, for that matter—first you get the IS-BAO certification then you immerse yourself in the AMG requirements and recommendations. There are a mind-boggling 186 items listed as operating standards, all designed to require a safe operation and ensure the operator has the capacity to accomplish the contract in the required manner. This document is extremely detailed and can be considered a “safety bible” if you do business with any major offshore energy company.
There are also small independent oil and gas production companies that are in need of audit services. These companies do not have the massive resources of the major producers and because they operate on smaller budgets, will often use the smaller helicopter operators because their rates are, at times, lower than the bigger operators.
Another very significant factor is the experience level of the auditor. Of the two or three that I know personally who do audits for the offshore market, all have between 40 and 50 or more years of experience as operators and managers of helicopter operations before becoming independent auditors. They do not have to deal with theory because they have been there and done that as we say in Texas. In all cases they can be considered experts in being able to apply the required standards to any type of helicopter or fixed-wing operation.