What's included in an ATO Operations Manual?

The OM contains information and instructions to enable personnel to perform their duties and to give guidance to students on how to comply with course requirements. Like the OM for an airline the OM for an ATO consists of four parts:

General: The General part of the manual includes a description of the management of the ATO such as the duties and responsibilities of personnel, qualification requirements for instructors and flight and duty time limits.

Technical: The Technical part contains aircraft operating instructions. In most ATOs documents prepared by aircraft manufacturers, such as the Flight Crew Operating Manual (FCOM) or Pilots’ Operating Handbook (POH) are used for this.

Route: The Route part of the OM includes aircraft operating information such as flight planning, performance, weather minima and routes or areas to be used for flight training.

Training; The Training part of the OM describes the training and checking required for instructors. The training courses offered by the ATO are not in the OM, these are in a separate training manual (TM).

Instructions and information

A good OM does not just reproduce regulations, it describes how the ATO complies with those regulations.

As an example, regulations require that an ATO keeps records of students and their progress through training. The OM should describe how information is collected and recorded when a student is enrolled, after each training session or progress test and how all these records are checked before a course completion certificate is issued. The OM may include forms for recording this information or, if a computerised system is used, it should describe how entries are made The OM will also describe how information is stored, how it’s kept secure and who is allowed to access the information.

The OM should describe similar processes for qualification of instructors, suitability of training aircraft, safety risk management, annual audits etc.

Management System requirements

ATOs are required to have ‘management system documentation’. The way the European regulations are presented makes it look as though this is separate to the requirement for an OM but, in fact, the OM is part of the management system.

The management system documentation includes the ATO’s policies and procedures for safety management and compliance monitoring. These may be presented as separate volumes, i.e., a compliance monitoring manual and a safety management system (SMS) manual. Some ATOs put these into a combined organisation management manual (OMM).

Who is the manual for?

The OM and the other required manuals have to be submitted to the competent authority before an ATO certificate is issued. Changes to the manual also have to be submitted to the authority and some of these changes will require authority approval before they are implemented by the ATO. Having access to the OM helps the authority to see how the ATO is run and check that the ATO complies with regulations but the OM should not be written for the authority, it should be written for staff and students of the ATO.

A well written OM will be used by staff and students every day. It will give them the instructions they need and mean that they don’t need to constantly refer to regulations.

Do all flight schools need an Operations Manual?

Flight schools that offer training towards the light aircraft pilot licence (LAPL), the private pilot licence (PPL) and some of the associated ratings do not have to be approved. These schools can operate as Declared Training Organisations (DTO). DTOs are not required to have an OM; they are required to have a safety policy, procedures for safety management and written programmes for each course of training offered.

DTOs, like ATOs, need to keep detailed records, have suitable management personnel and conduct an ‘annual internal review’ (equivalent to the ATO compliance monitoring programme). DTOs will find it useful to have a set of documents describing these processes and a set of forms that can be used to keep accurate, reliable records.

Need help?

If you operate an ATO or DTO or you are planning to start, then developing and maintaining the OM can be an onerous task. McKechnie Aviation LTD can assist with the production of a really useful set of documents, including the OM, that will help your business to run smoothly and to comply with all the applicable requirements.

We commissioned Andrew to undertake a detailed and specific analysis of a complex safety concern and his highly professional approach, detailed analysis and balanced conclusions resulted in a report that exceeded our expectations.  Critically, the report was material in achieving a policy change that delivered a significant benefit to the Company.  We would have no hesitation in using Andrew’s expertise again.

Davis Winstanley, Chief Executive Officer London Biggin Hill Airport