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The BARS audit: Why it matters to organisations that utilise aviation support services

A Basic Aviation Risk Standard audit (BARS audit) is critical for companies and organisations that use aviation support in their operations.

The BARS Program was founded by Flight Safety Foundation Limited (Flight Safety Foundation), a global, independent, not-for-profit organisation focused on improving aviation safety.

Under the Program, aircraft operators that undertake a BARS audit are assessed using a common standard designed specifically for the specialised activities they are contracted to perform for their clients.

Why was BARS formed?

BARS was first formed out of a need by resource and mining companies for a global common standard of safety, catered to the specialised contracted aviation operations they required.

This collaborative effort was aimed at improving the safety standard in the contracted aviation environment by putting aircraft operators through a rigorous and objective audit. BARS Member Organisations (BMOs) have access to the BARS audit reports of any aircraft operator that undergoes an audit, reducing the overall number of audits aircraft operators would need to undertake on an annual basis for these organisations individually.

Since its inception, the BARS Program has expanded to include insurance companies, government departments, construction support and humanitarian organisations as BMOs, all of whom utilise the valuable data that the Program generates through its audits.

Why is a BARS audit useful?

Organisations, particularly resource and mining companies, are poised to reap the benefits of the stringent BARS audit process given the high potential risks to safety that aviation operations can pose in the sector. While some resource and mining companies own aircraft to transport their staff, equipment and even operate in and out of mining locations, it is more common for these companies to outsource their aviation needs to airlines or charter operators.

For Australian-registered aircraft, charter operators constitute approximately 93 per cent of aircraft associated with a fatality, with more than 90 per cent the number of fatalities in commercial air transport. Furthermore, the number of aircraft associated with a fatality in aerial work, and survey and photography – common contracted aviation services – comprise of more than 35 per cent in Australia’s general aviation landscape.

As resource and mining companies are heavily reliant on external aircraft operators, the safety and compliance of these operators is in the interest of these organisations, as much as the aircraft operators themselves.

BARS audit: A global common standard

Aviation operations often transcend national boundaries, which means there is a variation in aviation safety requirements between operators around the world. Not all national regulations are created equal and this becomes a challenge from a safety assurance perspective, as there is no ‘common denominator’ to measure safety and therefore mitigate risk, in aviation organisational and operational practices across the industry.

BARS is characteristically more stringent than most aviation regulatory authorities and pertinent to the resource and mining industry; the presence of a formalised industry audit protocol is a step towards the heightened assurance of aviation safety that the industry seeks. Five of the current BMOs alone collectively own and operate up to 23 airports across the world and move a total of over 1.7 million passengers a year. According to the FSF World Wide Onshore Resource Sector Accident Summary, the number of accidents/serious incidents reported in 2018 was six – a marked improvement from the 36 reported events and 45 fatalities in 2012.

Helpful data-sharing

Without a common standard to adhere to, the industry lacked any real clout in influencing changes to operational and/or organisational safety practices. Within the resource and mining industry itself, there had been a lack of established data-sharing of audit results and findings, which rendered a lack of a concerted push in improving safety practices of aviation services in the sector.

Data from BARS audits is shared among BMOs who also form a part of the technical advisory committee for the Program. The sharing of audit reports and data results effectively means BMOs have access to valuable information in the areas of conformance, non-conformance and associated trends for aircraft operators in the Program, worldwide. This information allows member companies to counteract their risk in operations in areas including charter, geophysical surveys, helicopter external loads, offshore operations, medical evacuations and humanitarian work.

For highly specialised and high risk aviation operations typical in the industry, an audit with the BARS Program assists in the risk management process for organisations and contributes towards the improvement of the overall level of aviation safety in the industry.