A Case for Mandatory Emergency Training for All Corporate Flight Attendants
This is a post by guest author Susan C. Friedenberg, President and CEO of Corporate Flight Attendant Training & Consulting Services. Susan was asked to contribute to this blog because of her expertise in and advocacy for the corporate flight attendant profession. Any thoughts expressed below are entirely Susan’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.
From the moment I discovered business aviation, I found there were no FAA regulations for FAR Parts 91 or 135 applicable to flight attendants. You would never get on a scheduled commercial flight without egress-trained people in the back that can save your life in the event of an accident/incident or medical issue.
Our industry is such a strong proponent of safety, but we haven’t yet overcome obstacles that would make it a requirement for all operators to have an emergency trained person in the back of a large, heavy piece of equipment. It has taken me years to accept that if an operation does not want a third crew member, that is, of course, their option. However, if there is person in the back, shouldn’t they be trained to act and react like the front end does in adverse situations? Would a pilot share his flight deck with a non-type-rated SIC? Definitely not!
I understand there are different views on this subject, but if you can stick with me through the rest of the article, I’d like to lay out my case on why I think it’s imperative that all flight attendants onboard corporate aircraft meet a defined standard of corporate-specific egress training to ensure the safety of passengers onboard each flight.
Current state of corporate flight attendant regulations
At the moment, regulations basically state that any equipment with nineteen (19) or fewer seats does not require a trained flight attendant. Twenty (20) to fifty (50) seats, you must have one (1) trained flight attendant in the back. Fifty-one (51) to seventy-five (75) seats, you must have two (2), etc.
Identification of the problem
My business aviation journey began in 1984. From the day I first became a part of this industry, I made it my mission to learn everything I could, especially the role of the corporate flight attendant. As my experience increased, I saw the growing need for standards for corporate flight attendant training and safety. Over time, I became very passionate about this and “found my voice” in advocating for these standards. The fact that there is no requirement for an egress- trained person became my professional mission, and it still is today. My professional goal/mission is that the FAA enacts legislation and FARs requiring any person in the back of an aircraft that looks like a flight attendant, is “acting” like one, and is anything other than a passenger to be corporate-specific egress trained.
At this time, a flight department or passenger isn’t required to have a flight attendant onboard the aircraft if it falls in the 19-or-less seat category. However, if there is a person back there, he or she should be trained for an aircraft evacuation, whether ground or water, and be First Aid – CPR/AED certified as well. The cost for an initial egress training and yearly recurrent training is minuscule in comparison to the day-to-day operation of a business aviation aircraft. I feel compelled to mention that I do not teach emergency training, so this is not about me or my income.
A story we can’t forget
I first wrote about the need for these standards in a publication for NBAA (National Business Aviation Association) in a 1998 Guest Editorial piece called THE POWER OF EMERGENCY TRAINING. I discussed the lack of regulations and training for people assigned to work in the back of business aircraft large enough to hold a corporate attendant. To highlight this, I would like to share the true story of Robin Fech, who was the sole flight attendant onboard a commercial aircraft in flight with 26 passengers onboard.
In this true story of an Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529 – en route to Gulfport, MS from Atlanta, GA on August 21, 1995 –, an Embraer 120 took off and climbed to 18,000 feet, when all of a sudden, the plane shuddered, shook violently, and dropped 9,000 feet. One of the right engine propeller blades snapped off and went into the engine cowling, which caused a fire and the engine to peel like an onion.
Robin was in the middle of a beverage cart service. She immediately stowed everything and began briefing her passengers, demonstrating the BRACE position, checking seat belts, briefing passengers on the operation of the doors and OW exits, repositioning the able-bodied people (ABPs), and waited for a directive from the pilots, who were literally fighting to keep the plane intact and level. An emergency had been declared, and they were headed back to their departure point. Robin never stopped utilizing her time to brief, re-brief, and ready her cabin for the unknown.
They never made it to their departure point and crash landed in an open field after shearing through tree tops.
Robin was knocked unconscious and completely turned around in her jump seat with broken ribs and a broken collar bone and wrist. She awoke to a plane engulfed in fire and smoke. She didn’t panic and heroically saved the lives of 18 passengers and the SIC. The PIC died on impact. The NTSB accident report commended “the exemplary manner in which the flight attendant briefed the passengers and handled the emergency.” She had been a commercial flight attendant for 2.6 years, during which time she had attended one initial egress training and two recurrent training classes.
Making the case for training
This crash resonates with me, and I frequently think about it in my career as a corporate flight attendant, instructor, and advocate. Robin is my aviation heroine! I have seen the pictures of what was left of the aircraft, and it is just shocking that anyone survived. Even though this was a Part 121 aircraft, and not a Part 91 or 135, she was the sole flight attendant onboard – a scenario similar to most business aviation operations.
This exemplifies why I truly believe when you hire a third crew member (i.e., flight attendant), that person must have corporate specific emergency training. Emergencies and first-aid situations can happen onboard any flight at any time. In these situations, we trust in our pilots, who focus on flying the aircraft and doing what they are trained to do. We must also be able to trust that our flight attendants to have the know-how to address any and all safety needs of our passengers and allow the pilots to focus on their job: to land that plane safely and not worry about the back. It’s all about safety and being confident that you can rely on your third crew member. The F/A is the eyes and ears for the flight deck, so you want to consider having a responsible emergency-trained person in the back to avoid any potential liability situations.
If you have any questions about this article, contact me at Scffatraining@aol.com.