Aviation Safety Letter 1/2004

The ASL Interview - Mike Doiron, Principal & CEO, Moncton Flight College

by Edgar Allain, Civil Aviation Safety Inspector, System Safety, Atlantic Region

Graham Sheppard (left), MFC's Standards & Safety Officer, and Mike Doiron

Graham Sheppard (left), MFC's Standards & Safety Officer, and Mike Doiron

Mike Doiron started flying in 1972 and became a Class I instructor, Designated Flight Test Examiner (DFTE) and Chief Flight Instructor (CFI). He joined Transport Canada (TC) in 1979 as a Flight Training Standards Inspector and held various positions, including Regional Superintendent of Flight Training Standards and 12 years as the Atlantic Regional Manager of System Safety. Mike's background is strongly concentrated in Instructional Technique, Safety Management and Human Factors. In May of 1998, Mike left TC to become Principal and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Moncton Flight College (MFC).

ASL:  Mike, what is your official title and how do you fit into the structure of the organization?

Mike Doiron (M.D.):  I am the [CEO] and Principal of the college. I report to a board of volunteers, because the Flight College is a not-for profit organization. Effectively all decisions on the day-to-day operations are made from my office.

ASL:  Could you give us an overview of the programs offered at MFC?

M.D.:  MFC offers courses at two different levels; at the ab initio level, Private and Commercial Pilot Training, and at the college level, a two year Diploma Program.

We also have an advanced portion of MFC, which we call "MFC Pro Select" which deals with King Air 200 training for corporate operators, and advanced courses such as the Safety Management System (SMS), Crew Resource Management and other courses in those fields.

ASL:  How many instructors do you have? How many aircraft do you operate?

M.D.:  We have 26 flight instructors, including eight senior Class I and Class 2 instructors. We are in the process of a complete fleet renewal. We purchased six Diamond aircraft and are slowly replacing our Cessna 172s. We also have a Citabria that we use for upset and aerobatic training, and two Piper Seminoles for multi-engine and IFR training.

ASL:  Can you describe your SMS program for us?

M.D.:  MFC has a comprehensive SMS program, which incorporates numerous facets. The key is that we have Graham Sheppard as our full time Standards and Safety Officer (SSO). His role within the organization is to manage the SMS program. He does initial investigations, initial occurrence reports and so forth. We also have within our maintenance department a "Quality Assurance Manager" by the name of Ian Albert. Both Ian and Graham work together on any maintenance or flight operations issues, which may have cross-ties between the two departments. While the SMS program is managed by our safety officer, it effectively remains my responsibility, as I'm a firm believer that whoever runs the place is ultimately responsible for safety.

ASL:  What can you tell me about your safety committee, its membership, frequency, etc?

M.D.:  We hold monthly safety committee meetings. I am the co-chairperson, with Jason Meunier, who represents our employees. All managers report to the safety committee itself, whereby all the various components of our SMS program reporting system, incident reports, OSH [Occupational Health and Safety] issues, operational and maintenance issues and processes. We also have representatives from our Quality Assurance Department, our employees and our students. The student participation consists of two or three students from our senior year, because they have already received the full SMS course as part of their training. This gives them a much better appreciation of a SMS program in an operational setting. Having students on the team who are trained in safety management has proven to be a really effective tool, because they not only see issues from the eyes of the student, but they are also often approached by fellow students. At the meeting, we review the occurrences from the previous 30 days, and we discuss outstanding and action items from previous meetings. The safety committee has final say on whatever action has been taken. So even though an investigation was carried out and fixes put in place, an event is never considered closed until the safety committee approves the actions taken.

ASL:  Earlier you had mentioned an anonymous reporting system. Can you explain how you give feedback in such a system?

M.D.:  The interesting thing is that we have had an anonymous reporting system in place for about three years and have never used it because people put their names on the sheets and they are not afraid. This, I think, comes from our "no blame" culture. We have been very adamant about the fact that errors occur and that it is an issue of error management and error identification. We've had probably at least a dozen times where someone would come up to us and say: "boy I messed up" and here's what happened. The interesting thing is that in most of these cases, if they had not reported upon themselves, we never would have known that anything had gone wrong because there was no damage, no physical occurrence, just a close call. The enlightening part of this is that through this self-disclosure we found that in most of these instances we had to change either a procedure, a policy or a practice we used around here.

The end result is that not only did this person learn from their mistake, but also the lesson learned was passed on to everyone else in the organization, so that the mistake doesn't reoccur. To me, the key to a Safety Program is not the fact that you figured out what went wrong after you broke the thing, it's figuring out what can go wrong, to help you prevent breaking it in the first place. So the no blame culture is, I feel, the key ingredient of that whole exercise, in the fact that people are not afraid to come and speak up. On several occasions, I've had people come directly to my office and tell me that they had an occurrence; what we do at that point is a full-blown investigation as if we were investigating an accident. We simply want to try to figure out what went wrong. The simple fact of the matter is that this person did not do this on purpose. There is an underlying cause as to why they committed that error and we have to figure out what that cause is and, if it's a system deficiency, we fix it.

I must point out that a "no blame" culture does not mean that everyone gets away with whatever they want. We do have very clear policy and guidelines as to what is included in the "no blame" culture. When you get right down to it, there are only three things that we would take disciplinary action for, and they are negligence, criminal intent and substance abuse of some kind.

ASL:  Do you believe that your organization possesses a strong safety culture?

M.D.:  I think so, because it is ingrained right from the beginning. Our new students begin learning immediately in their briefings the importance and proper use of manuals, Standard Operating Procedures, how and why we have a SMS program, and the introduction to the "no blame" culture - essentially what makes us tick as an organization. The emphasis from day one is a safe operation within the organization.

ASL:  How do you do that? How do you get people to think safety?

M.D.:  Actually we don't get them to think safety; we simply make them understand that "this is the way we do business." I think what has to happen really, is that people must think safety without realizing they are.

ASL:  In your opinion, what are some of the benefits that have been realized since implementing a SMS program at MFC?

M.D.:  We started the program five years ago and honestly, it's still under development, as we keep fine tuning it every day. Financially, we estimate that over the last 4 years we have saved annually anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000 as a result of our SMS program. These numbers are significant and anyone who knows the margins in flight training would agree that it's not bad at all. Another bonus is that in spite of increasing insurance rates, our increases have been quite minimal. Our insurers ask us how we do this, and how we keep our accident rate so low. Over the last four years we have had in the vicinity of 85 000 hr of operations in flight training, with probably half of those hours being with pilots with under 200 hr of flight experience. Of these 85 000 hr, we've had two collapsed nose wheels due to hard landings on the part of students. In short, if your SMS is simply how you do business, it's not an extra and never gets dropped.

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