Message From the President #1

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      John DeRosaJohn DeRosa

        Sky Soaring Members,

        Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you are all staying healthy.


        I was elected President of the Sky Soaring board at our annual meeting last weekend. As the new president I feel that it is critically important that I help to communicate the work that we are all doing to move the club forward on many fronts. So each month I will be sending you a monthly news email. You are reading the inaugural issue.


        Right after being elected I made several important comments to those in attendance. Maybe you were unable to attend the important meeting either in person or via zoom so I thought that I would begin this email with a recap of what I had to say.


        I began by thanking those past members of the board for their service – Larry Kase (president), Art Silverman (vice president) and Mark Mallamo (flight chairman). I thanked those members that volunteered to become part of the new board – John Osborn (vice president), John Lincoln (maintenance) and Don Grillo (flight chairman). I also thanked those previous board members for staying on for another term – Steve Synder (treasurer) and Jim Hopkins (Secretary). We cannot move forward without these talented individuals. But equally important to thank are each of YOU, all the other members of our club. Nothing can really happen without everyone being involved.


        But then I turn to speak about some hard truths along with others members of the new board. The key word from everyone was SAFETY!


        We did have a good year in many respects. We survived the spring floods. We had no Covid-19 transmissions associated with Sky Soaring that I am aware of. Our total flights increasing by 9.5% from 736 in 2019 to 806 this year (aerotows increased by 58% while winch flights were down by -84%).


        But, and it is hard to talk about this, in other ways this has been a very bad year for our club. We have had an bad accident. We could have easily had a fatality this year. So the clear focus this year will be SAFETY above all other things. I need your help to make this a reality. Let me put some of this into perspective by looking at the national picture of soaring’s safety record.


        I recently spoke with SSA’s executive committee’s First Vice Chairman, Geoff Weck, about the national trends in soaring. Basically, things are not going well and the insurance underwriters are concerned. There have been far too many accidents/incidents and increasing insurance claims across the SSA’s member clubs. This committee has been briefed by our group insurance agent, Costello Insurance, that at best we can expect a rate increase and at worse there is the specter of the total loss of SSA group coverage.


        We have to ask will the underwriters feel that it just isn’t financial prudent to insure the US soaring community in 2021? You might think that if Sky Soaring doesn’t file a claim then our insurance coverage should be fine. Not so. If the NTSB gets involved then the underwriters become aware which then reflects directly on our operation, and by extension on all soaring operations. Will the cost of Sky Soaring’s insurance increase at spring renewal time? There is little doubt. Will it be renewed? I definitely hope so. We must report to our insurance agency what our plans are to change our safety culture.


        So what are Sky Soaring’s plans? The board, and all our members, must focus on convincing our insurers that we are moving in the right direction. The mandatory meeting we recently hosted with the Soaring Safety Foundation (SSF) is a step in the right direction. Our mandatory spring 2021 safety meeting is also a step in the right direction. But each of us must take lots of steps to get to where we need to be. Here are some thoughts.


        John Osborn, our new Vice President, spoke at our annual meeting of his feelings of changing the culture and increase the focus of our club. I quote, “The Club cannot afford any more issues given the overall insurance situation. It is my hope to provide help and support for developing a more safety focused culture within the Club.”


        Don Grillo, our new flight chairman, spoke on some of the steps he is planning for 2021. I quote, “As the new Flight Chairman I will be concentrating on safety procedures both in the air and on the ground. Some of the areas that will be addressed are launch safety, clearing the runway after landing, wing runner refresher course, tow pilot refresher course, standardized student training utilizing a training syllabus, better glider staging, creating a Safety Officer position, short safety talks at each monthly meetings and more.”


        Gary Palumbo, a key maintenance leader, stood up and passionately talked about the need to renew new member orientations, to begin safety briefings at the start of each flying day, to resurrect the Ground Safety Officer (GSO) function, and to not be in such a hurry because just a slightly slower operation can reap huge safety benefits.


        To me a key area of safety is that we have let too much gray area creep into our decisions that we make about operations. Here is an example – what is our cross wind limit? Can you tell me what Sky Soaring policies and procedures say about this important safety rule? I think that many cannot. You might hear rules. You might hear some guidelines. You might hear different information from different people or the potentially deadly, “Its probably ok.”. What you are hearing is gray information, not black and white information. Without accurate and consistent rules to base your decisions how can you be as safe as possible?


        We need to institutionalize the rules for this game that we play. Then get that message out. What I want going forward are clear “lines in the sand” rules. I am directing Don Grillo as our Flight Chairman to state as clearly as possible where these lines lie in our policies in clear terms and to reinforce the message by posting signage where needed. NO GRAY areas, only black and white.


        EVERYONE is involved in safety. All members must be part of our Sky Soaring culture of SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY. Starting today ANYONE (young or old, new or not-so-new, experienced or student) can call STOP to any operation for ANY reason. It only takes a few moments to makes things safer. In only take a few moments to prevent the preventable. So if you see something you don’t like then you MUST SPEAK UP. Listen to that inner voice. This needs to be second nature to us to become a great benefit to all of us. SAFETY!


        In the coming months I will talk about other topics while keeping up the push for the safest operation possible.


        Here’s to a very safe 2021.


        Thank you
        John DeRosa
        President, Sky Soaring Glider Club

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