December 10, 2020

Double Helix: Jet Linx Safety Summit 2020

Safety assurance must be part of a company’s DNA. Like the double helix of chromosomal DNA, safety is one of the strands influencing our decisions and culture at Jet Linx.


Operations is the other thread, with the bonds between the two inextricably intertwined. Each year, the relationship between these threads is reinforced at the all-employee Jet Linx Safety Summit.

Due to the pandemic, the Safety Summit took place virtually, over two days, connecting team members across the country to speakers and conversation around safety in an online setting.

Jet Linx once again voluntarily grounded its fleet of 112 aircraft and brought together its entire team of more than 450 flight crew, operations, maintenance and support team members and guest speakers via livestream.

This year’s Safety Summit was co-led by Sheryl Clarke, Jet Linx Director of Safety & Security, and focused on “Managing Through Crisis,” which included the COVID-19 pandemic response and management. Other topics included safety culture, maintenance safety and emergency response best practices. The online Safety Summit welcomed guest speakers Mike Leinbach, the final Shuttle Launch Director for the Space Shuttle Program at NASA, and Colonel Laurel “Buff” Burkel, United States Air Force, retired.

“While our world has changed dramatically in just one year, our principal focus on safety has remained constant,” remarked Clarke. “We have no playbook for where we have been in the last 90 days, but the strategic decisions made by this organization have positioned us as leaders in our industry.” In her opening address, Clarke cited organizational maturity as a prerequisite for success in an emergency – like that of the pandemic – and commended the tactical response and strategic industry collaboration that senior team members implemented from the very onset of the crisis.

“Aviation requires ingenuity and innovation because nothing stays constant for long,” echoed Jamie Walker, President and CEO of Jet Linx. “Our leadership made the correct decisions and used reliable data in response to the events that unfolded. Analyzing reliable information on a day-to-day basis will define our next steps. However, the safety of our passengers and crew remains our top concern, and that is why we chose to press forward with this important event despite the circumstances of the pandemic.”

Many senior team members spoke about the strategic response and plans for business continuity. Scott McGregor, COO, and Yvette Green, Vice President of Human Resources, reviewed updated procedures and recommendations for team members to adhere to moving forward. Both McGregor and Green stressed the importance of utilizing accurate data when making decisions and the need for flexibility when responding to developments in the crisis. This data-centric approach builds directly on the existing safety management system in place at Jet Linx.

To close day one of the Safety Summit, Clarke welcomed guest speaker Mike Leinbach. As the final Shuttle Launch Director at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Leinbach oversaw launch countdown policy, planning, and execution activities. Leinbach joined NASA in 1984, assuming the title of Shuttle Launch Director in 2000; he led the Launch Team for all 37 Shuttle missions up until 2011 when the program was shut down. In the wake of the 2003 Columbia disaster in which seven astronauts lost their lives, Leinbach led the debris recovery effort and the space shuttle reconstruction team.

Leinbach’s presentation focused on the normalization of deviance – the idea that if a perceived risk occurs often enough without consequence, it then becomes acceptable behavior. Even organizations like NASA can become prone to unnecessary risk taking. Citing the 1986 Challenger disaster and the 2003 Columbia disaster, Leinbach urged vigilance and adherence to procedures to avoid unintended outcomes.

He noted events like the Jet Linx Safety Summit are valuable reminders on the importance of safety culture and the dangers of drift. “Jet Linx has made a noteworthy commitment to dedicate two entire days to safety,” Leinbach said. “Meaningful discussions, such as the one we’re having right now, produce positive safety outcomes and do eventually prevent tragedies. This is a great opportunity that other companies in this space should implement, or at the very least, tune in and see how Jet Linx does it.”

On the second day of the Safety Summit, Jet Linx welcomed U.S. Air Force Col. (ret) Laurel “Buff” Burkel. In October 2015, Burkel was involved in a helicopter crash while working with NATO forces in Kabul, Afghanistan. Now retired and volunteering as an ambassador for the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, Burkel travels the world to share the inspirational story of her recovery and resiliency.

After Burkel’s inspirational message, Mike Kopp, Director of Operations, provided updates on how the Jet Linx Safety Management System (SMS) was adapted in response to the pandemic.

Even though the Safety Summit took a different form this year, the impact remained. Walker closed the event, saying, “We make safety happen, not just today, but the other 364 days of the year. Safety is an everyday event, and we’re all a part of it.”

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