IS-BAO 101 for the New Aviation Reporting Executive

Author By Steve Brechter
is-bao 101 logo

Perhaps the most important thing to know as a newly minted Aviation Reporting Executive is your role and your limitations.

While you’re not expected to be a technical expert, you do need to know about important industry standards and best practices. And there’s a five-letter acronym that should be a part of your growing aviation vocabulary. So let’s get you updated on IS-BAO. 

IS-BAO is the global standard of operational excellence for business aviation and stands for International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations.

There is no better way for an FAA Part 91 flight department to demonstrate operational excellence and safe operation than to achieve IS-BAO registration.

Equally important is to progress through the three stages of registration. This demonstrates increasing levels of incorporation of the standard at each registration level achieved.

IS-BAO 101:  The Importance to Flight Departments

Business aviation has historically operated under the most flexible standards among the various types of aircraft operators.

Commercial airlines, operating in the U.S. under FAR Part 121, are highly regulated.

Meanwhile charter operators, operating under FAR Part 135, have a different set of operating criteria.

Private operators (or corporations), operating under FAR Part 91, have the most flexible operating environment.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is the body that governs airspace worldwide. They determined several years ago that, in the interest of global aviation safety, business aviation operators should meet certain thresholds of operational performance. This is more specifically with respect to safety. Its International Business Aviation Committee (IBAC) created the IS-BAO standard, which has now been adopted worldwide.

IS-BAO registration is vitally important for every flight department operating in international airspace.

In fact, as of November 18, 2010, Annex 6, Section II of the ICAO standards requires an operator of aircraft operating in international airspace to demonstrate that they have an externally validated Safety Management System (SMS) within their operation.

IS-BAO registration is the only universally accepted means of validating an SMS. The SMS is the core of IS-BAO registration.


Why Registration is Vitally Important

In the U.S., the FAA has filed a ‘difference’ to the IS-BAO standard. This means that while the country is a signatory to the ICAO standards, a validated SMS for Part 91 operators is not yet required for operations within the airspace of the 48 contiguous United States.

The FAA is determining when and how to incorporate the SMS requirement domestically. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but simply ‘when.’

There is absolutely no doubt that the SMS will be a requirement in the future. Therefore, the best course of action for a flight department is to proactively become IS-BAO registered. And, be ready for the requirement for whenever to FAA determines its specific course of action.

IS-BAO registration also demonstrates that the flight department is  incorporating the latest safety philosophy, tools and risk mitigation techniques within the industry.


Three Stages of IS-BAO Registration

The three stages of IS-BAO registration include:

Stage 1: The operator has incorporated the requirements of the IS-BAO standard into their written procedures.

Stage 2: The operator can provide objective evidence that the requirements of the standard are fully in use and that the standard is truly a ‘way of life.’

Stage 3: The operator can demonstrate that the standard is fully absorbed and reflected in the culture of both the operator and parent company or entity.

The time it takes to get registered varies on the extent of resources that an operator wants to invest in the IS-BAO registration initiative.

Flight departments are not generally staffed to take on large projects like this, so trying to do it all internally could take a year or more without outside resources.

Utilizing outside resources to help with manual preparation and internal readiness can shorten the lead-time substantially.

In fact, Gray Stone Advisors has helped flight departments achieve Stage 1 IS-BAO registration in just 3-4months, from start to finish.

Additionally, a flight department must be ready to embrace the adoption of what is known in safety circles as a ‘just culture.’

Such a culture encourages, and makes it totally acceptable for, all safety and risk issues to be brought forward for resolution without fear of retribution. Doing so allows the root causes to be identified and the risks to be mitigated. The SMS portion of IS-BAOregistration actualizes the ‘just culture’ of safety.

Advice When Selecting an IS-BAO Auditor

The IS-BAO Auditor will play a critical role in compliance so it’s important that:

Your auditor conducts a comprehensive audit.
There’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ and an IS-BAO audit is not the time to look for one. You want an auditor who will thoroughly ‘wire-brush’ the organization and identify your strengths and improvement opportunities with respect to the requirements of IS-BAO.


You seek deep experience on behalf of the auditor.
Don’t forget that the audit is a learning experience and you want to draw out all you can from the auditor. The auditor has likely seen dozens of other flight operations like yours. So, in a sense, the IS-BAO audit can be used as a benchmarking opportunity as well.


Your business aviation team is thoroughly involved.
All members of the business aviation team, from the Director of Aviation on down, should be an integral part of the readiness process. They’ll want to follow every step of the auditor while he or she is on-site.

Remember, the system of implementation of the standard belongs to the aviation team and they need to see it that way. There is no going back; it must be the new way of doing business in your business aviation organization.


IS-BAO 101: 3 Key Takeaways

I’m often asked for the most important takeaways after a flight department begins the process of IS-BAO registration. Here are my top three:

1. Do it for the right reasons. Merely ‘checking the compliance box’ is not one of them. Rather, it’s about ensuring the safest operation possible and the greatest risk mitigation.

You may want to ask some probing questions along those lines at various levels in the flight department organization. This ensures that the attitude is right.


2. ‘Live the standard’ after the auditor is gone. Embracing IS-BAO must be part of the core culture of the organization. It’s not simply a layer on top of ‘what’s really going on.’

You may want to check if the old manuals and procedures are gone and the new flight operations manual (FOM) has taken their place.


3. Create a ‘just culture’ with respect to safety. You need to assure that the culture established at the time of IS-BAO registration is sustained as time goes on.

For example, you may consider asking your flight department Director how many hazard reports are being generated each month. And what is the time it takes to close them out? These types of metrics will give you a good sense of how serious the department is about IS-BAO.


IS-BAO registration is an imperative for a flight department. Thus, it can be achieved easier and faster than originally thought if its implementation is properly planned. It helps to deploy outside resources to assist in implementation and the organization truly embraces the requirements once adopted.


Next Step

Are you ready to get IS-BAO registered or would you like a referral to a highly experienced IS-BAO auditor? If so, Gray Stone Advisors offers a no-obligation discussion to help you get started. Call or email us today.