Performers Offer Critique, Direction on Air Bosses


As part of the recently completed ICAS Air Boss Academy at MCAS Miramar in late September, ICAS conducted an informal and non-scientific survey of a representative cross-section of ICAS members. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Lack of competence. According to many performers, there is a surprising lack of basic competence among some air bosses, even among those with many years of experience. And the performers believe that putting the wrong person in that position is potentially dangerous.


  1. Briefings. Performers believe that getting the right balance of enough information, but not too much is one of the biggest challenges facing air bosses. On the one hand, there are too many briefings in which the important information never gets properly covered. On the other hand, some air bosses use the briefing as an opportunity to grandstand and to show people how much they know.


  1. Failure to establish command and control. The very name “air boss” presumes that this individual will take control and use that position to make the air show safer. If every accident is the result of a chain of individual problems that, together, cause an accident, then the air boss should see himself/herself as the “chain breaker,” the one person charged with identifying hazards of any sort and interrupting accident chains before the accidents happen.


  1. Unnecessary talk/chatter on the radio. Pilots must monitor the air show frequency, but when that frequency is too busy, the performers are subjected to an unnecessary and potentially dangerous distraction. Some performers are distracted. Others just turn the volume down or switch to another frequency, which introduces a different problem. Air bosses need to exercise better radio discipline.


  1. Poor briefing preparation. The failure of air bosses to include necessary photos, maps and diagrams during the briefing to explain key issues related to position of aerobatic box, location of various flight lines and crowd lines. An air boss is expected to do the preparatory work necessary to conduct a thorough and clear briefing.


  1. Lack of decisiveness. It’s one of a handful of absolute requirements. Whether by training or temperament, an air boss needs to make good decisions quickly and communicate those decisions clearly and immediately to the performing pilots.


  1. Mid-performance request by air boss to shorten an act. Mid-performance requests by air bosses for unplanned changes to a performer’s sequence have long-been understood to be a no-no in our business, but that doesn’t always stop air bosses from trying to correct scheduling problems by making unreasonable requests of performing pilots in the middle of a performance.


  1. Failure of the air boss to act as an advocate for the performers with the event organizers. Think of it as a “safety ombudsman.” Even when the performer can’t or won’t speak on his/her own behalf, the air boss should be fully engaged on behalf of those performers.


  1. Discrete frequencies. The air boss is expected to be the one individual advocating for the availability of discrete frequencies when the FAA, airport management, air traffic control and others say that they’re not necessary.


  1. Early morning briefings. Sometimes they are unavoidable, but performers would like air bosses to advocate more enthusiastically on their behalf when event organizers plan very early morning briefings. Performers are particularly concerned when air bosses suggest that it is “whiny” for a performer to raise crew rest issues. Long days are a legitimate safety concern and performers expect air bosses to take that concern seriously.
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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.