Embry-Riddle: ‘Live the Safety Culture’

By By Keith Cianfrani | April 1, 2013
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When you first arrive at the Daytona Beach or Prescott campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), it does not take long to see that everyone there is well aware of safety management as they “Live the Safety Culture” every day.

Dan McCune, vice president of safety, orchestrated the visit. I met McCune at a U.S. Transportation Safety Institute (TSI) safety management systems (SMS) course, where he presented a class on human factors analysis and classification.

As you may know from my previous articles, I’m a very strong advocate of leadership and safety. Safety must start at the top to work throughout an organization. This is well demonstrated at ERAU. I sat down with the University President John P. Johnson and McCune for a one-on-one discussion about safety management. Safety is a top priority at the school and the university leadership gets involved at every level, they said.


Students conduct preflight planning. 

The structure of the university’s safety program could be compared to a military organization, with Johnson as the brigade or wing commander and the program managed by an outstanding safety officer (in this case McCune). A retired Army warrant officer, pilot, and established safety officer, McCune also authored Chapter 5, Safety Culture in Your Safety Management System, in the book, “Implementing Safety Management Systems in Aviation.” Johnson and McCune have the innate ability to bring all employees of the university together for a common focus on safety. I also sat down with Tim Brady, dean of the College of Aviation (Daytona campus), and Alan Stolzer, department chair of doctoral studies, to discuss the challenges and achievements of safety in the university. Brady is a former Air Force pilot and safety officer. Stozler is the co-author of “Implementing Safety Management Systems in Aviation.” We discussed some the challenges and achievements at ERAU. One issue discussed was the high turnover rate, which is due to the high demand of ERAU graduates in all areas of aviation. Jet Blue is a company that consistently hires ERAU graduates. Brady went on to say that graduates “live and breathe” the safety culture.

When flight students at Daytona graduate the program, they receive an FAA rating of commercial and multi-engine instrument in fixed-wing. The Prescott graduates receive the same rating in rotary wing to include turbine but only single-engine. Many students go on to take the instructor and instrument instructor courses upon graduation.

(L-R) ERAU President John Johnson, 

Dan McCune and Keith Cianfrani. 

The Prescott campus is operated much like Daytona, with a few differences. I spent time with Frank Ayers, the Chancellor and a retired Air Force pilot, Gary Northam, Dean College of Aviation (Prescott) and Jerry Kidrick, a retired Army pilot and chairman of the Flight Department. We discussed how “living the safety culture” is engraved in the every day operations on both the campus and flight line. We discussed the challenges of flying in a higher elevation environment and retaining quality flight instructors. Ayers went on to say “this culture builds a heightened safety awareness and consciousness.”

Universal Helicopters Inc. conducts the helicopter flight training. Owned and operated by Gordon Jiroux, a veteran of the helicopter flight training arena with more than 30 years experience in instruction, UHI is under contract with ERAU to provide helicopter flight training. The company operates 10 helicopters with 28 instructors. The fleet consists of Robinson R22s and R44s, and one Bell Jet Ranger aircraft. Gordon’s team meets weekly with ERAU safety staff along with the operators of the airfield and air traffic control (ATC). He also holds a yearly safety conference for instructors.

After the interviews, I had the opportunity to fly the R44 with director of operations and chief pilot Danny Mackenzie. He walked me through the process of flight planning and risk management for ERAU pilots. Every pilot must brief Mackenzie with flight profile and risk assessment prior to every flight.

According to chief pilot Ivan Grau of Daytona (a 1980 ERAU graduate) the company’s aircraft fly approximately 70,000 hours a year. ERU’s fleet includes the Cessna 172, Piper Arrow, a Super Decathlon and a Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft. The university also trains in flight simulators such as the Diamond Decathlon, Cessna 172 and a CRJ200.

ERAU graduates are hired as instructor pilots because they understand the ERAU safety culture and are familiar with their procedures. Only the best get hired with a selection of approximately 50 instructor pilots a year. ERAU also employs rotary wing instructors after graduation.

Flight simulators are at both campuses. Daytona offers the high volume of traffic experience as it operates in the nation’s second-busiest VFR airport. Prescott offers the challenge of a windy, high-altitude flying environment. Both campuses use scenario type training in their curriculum totaling approximately 300 daily flights.

McCune always has safety coins on him and often gives them to employees he sees doing something to enhance safety, whether it is filling in holes in the grass along walkways or recognizing a pilot for a job well done. McCune oversees an army of safety professionals at both the Daytona and Prescott campuses. Justin Johnson is the aviation safety director at Daytona and Brian Roggow is his Prescott counterpart. They both have three safety teams working for them, encompassing flight instruction, operations and maintenance.

The safety status of the university is monitored by color status green, yellow and red. Green is all go, yellow indicates a concern and red indicates cease operations. As a result of good safety management, there never has been a red status. McCune consistently briefs the president on the current status. It’s like a having huge safety hazard log. All safety personnel know their jobs well and are constantly out on “spot checks” to enhance the safety process.

Embry-Riddle’s ASAP (incident reporting program) is outstanding. The safety culture encourages employees to report safety issues, no matter how insignificant. On average, both campuses receive more than 400 reports a year. This assists the safety mangers in identifying and mitigating safety risks.

Embry-Riddle employs approximately 3,200 people. During my visit, I always make it a point to speak with employees at every level to evaluate job satisfaction. This relates to the issue of good leadership when we speak of safety. I was very pleased to see that ERAU embraces their employees and considers them a part of a huge family working together to accomplish a common goal or mission safely.

Johnson and his staff surely use the “leader server concept,” where the employer resources its employees to succeed, thus reducing risks and empowering people, which acts as a huge part in the success of the organization. They are “stakeholders” in the organization.

Jack Haun oversees the maintenance at Daytona and John Tracy at Prescott. Both have more than 20 years experience in the maintenance field. As a part of risk management the parts department has a chain of custody procedure for ensuring the right part on the proper aircraft. They both are an integral part of the safety culture.

Safety Culture poster
at ERAU facilities. 

One of the practices I thought was outstanding was the fact the ERAU has no Mission Essential List for their aircraft. If something is found on a preflight the aircraft is grounded, no matter what the discrepancy, until a mechanic corrects the issue. You won’t find that practice in any Part 135 or 91 operation.

Safety management is alive and well at ERAU. As a result, they have a strong safety record and have been free from serious accidents for more than 10 years. There is true leadership from the university president and his staff of safety professionals. There is outstanding risk management from the flight instructors to the landscaping crews.

Remember, it’s the process. ERAU truly “Lives the Safety Culture.” As always, take action to Fly Safe!

Related: Safety News


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