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  • Todd Thomas

A Day in the Life

Updated: Feb 20

On occasion people have asked me what it was like leading the safety effort at a Part 121 airline. I tell them that it is certainly a challenging position, but rewarding. The FAA has requirements in FAR Part 119.65 which must be met before you can be considered for the position. The airline that offers you the job submits your name to the FAA. They review your credentials and interview you as well. They then either reject or approve the person for the position.

The job is most challenging for those new to the position. There is a lot to learn. In fact, the learning never stops. When I initially looked at the job description before being hired for my first position, I realized there is no way one person could do it all. I was relieved to learn all the requirements weren't simultaneous!

So, what is a “typical” day like for a Safety Director? The first thing to realize is that there is not a “typical” day. Inevitably, my plans would be interrupted by an unexpected call, email or visit to my office. You must learn to be flexible and able to alter your plans at a moment’s notice. Here is an example of how most days flowed.

I arrive at the office by 8:30 a.m., unlock my office and fire up the computer. While the computer is spinning up, I head to the breakroom for that all important first cup of coffee for the day! I chat a few minutes with some of the employees in the breakroom. Back to the office to review emails and check for any new safety reports. I then grab my notepad and it is off the first meeting of the day.

Our operations meeting was at 9:00 a.m. We get a nice briefing from dispatch of the previous days operations and then look at the operations coming up. Safety has a designated time to brief the group. I get the nod from the Director of Operations (DO) and provide an update on any new safety reports received. I also provide a safety tip and encourage each of the directors and managers to ensure their employee groups are using our safety system to report any safety issues. The operations meeting is a great place to pick up intel on possible safety issues that might not otherwise be reported.

I return to my office and call our Manager of Safety in to discuss our plans for the day. My Safety Manager oversaw our Internal Evaluation Program (IEP) and our Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). There are no IEP evaluations this day, but we do have a meeting at 2:00 p.m. with our ASAP Event Review Committee (ERC) to discuss recent reports from the pilot group.

I then shut my office door to allow me to focus on reviewing any new safety reports and to listen to our safety hotline for any calls as well as any new voicemails. It is important to remember that all safety reports (email and voice) are confidential so always be aware of who can see your computer screen or hear your voicemails. I return any calls. A quick check of the calendar shows a Continuing Analysis and Surveillance System (CASS) meeting with our maintenance department at 11:00 a.m. This is a monthly meeting to go over a report prepared by the CASS Manager to review the performance and effectiveness of our maintenance inspection programs.

After the CASS meeting, I have a moment to grab my lunch. I eat at my desk most days and review emails or read safety articles. I also go back into our electronic safety system to work on any new or existing reports. Many require investigating so this is a good time to research the particulars being reported. I add any notes to the report and set deadlines for completion.

Another check of the calendar shows we have a new hire group of flight attendants in training and I have been asked to speak with them regarding our safety program. They are flexible with my schedule and told me to drop in anytime. Looks like there is time after the 2:00 p.m. ASAP ERC meeting. I send a text to the Director of InFlight and let them know.

Time for the ASAP ERC meeting. This meeting involves representatives from the FAA, the pilot group, and the safety department. We meet monthly. If we have no new reports the meeting usually goes quickly. When there are new reports or follow-ups from previous reports the meeting can take longer, depending how complex the issue is. We stay as long as we need to address each issue with the goal of ultimately improving safety for the individual who made the report and the pilot group as a whole.

The meeting concludes and the FAA Principal Operations Inspector (POI) asks if I have a few moments to look ahead at their FAA SAS DCT schedule. I oblige and we head back to my office. The FAA performs ongoing surveillance of our operations through a tool they call Data Collection Tools (DCT). Looks like he has one he needs to complete by the end of the month. We look at our calendars and we agree on a date for him to come back to sit down with me and go over the questions.

A quick look at my watch says I need to meet with the new hire flight attendants. I swing by the training room and they are ready for me. I enjoy getting to meet the new hires and reinforcing our safety message in person. I remind every group that management cannot fix a problem that we are not aware of and how critical it is to report any and all safety concerns.

Back to the office to check emails and voicemails. The accountable executive sent an email and wants a safety briefing at the end of the day. I head down the hall to his office. I give him a rundown on where we are and any big issue items. He mentions that we will be seeking ETOPS approval for our aircraft in the near future. Per our SMS, this is a triggering event for our Safety Risk Management process. I let him know and advise him that we need a safety meeting with all of the directors and managers to begin our planning process for evaluating any potential risks posed by this new program. We pick a date and time and add it to our schedules.

Back to my office for a final check of emails and voicemails before calling it a day. I see by some email traffic from dispatch that we have some flights in progress. Time to shut down the computer and head home. I quickly check to see that my battery life is good on my phone. Although I am leaving the office, my day isn't over. I am required to be available 24/7. My phone is always by my side. I will check it throughout the evening. I sleep better knowing all of our flights have safely arrived at their destinations.

Having a passion for safety is a plus in the position of Safety Director! It truly becomes your life and I am glad I had the opportunity to lead the safety department at multiple carriers. While this position leads the safety efforts at airlines, I always remind people that the safety of an airline is a shared responsibility, and each person has an important part to play in it. Please support your Safety Director by submitting reports and keeping safety at the forefront of your job!

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