So you are in a flight department without any Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), you want some, but have no idea where to begin. Well let's try starting at the beginning! No, on second thought, let's start at the middle!

— James Albright





I've written a complete set of SOPs that was used by a management company I used to work for, has since been adopted by many other companies, and is currently in use at my company. These SOPs have been through countless audits, so they have been vetted. The only problem is that they are written for my operation, not yours. But you can easily adapt them.

There are eleven chapters and you might be best off by starting somewhere other than the first chapter, which is helpfully called Chapter Zero. But it would be a good idea to skim through everything: An SOP Starter Pack. Each chapter contains a presentation of the material, ideas on where to start, how to start, and a Microsoft Word Document file you can customize for you operation.

1 — Why this chapter matters

2 — SMS, ICAO, ISBAO and other alphabetty spaghetti

3 — The chapter itself

4 — Where to start

5 — How to start

6 — Word file



Why this chapter matters

This chapter is the first thing the reader will read, but it should be about the last thing you worry about. Get to the nuts and bolts of your SOPs and once the manual starts to take on its shape, tidy things up with the preliminaries.

The "Preliminaries" includes:

  • A preamble
  • It is a good idea to have a statement signed by the person in charge of the flight department and the person in charge of the company that says the SOPs are what you follow, that these SOPs are based on industry best practices, and that everyone has a shared role in the safe conduct of all flight operations.

  • A purpose statement
  • The reason behind the manual is outline why the flight department exists and how it accomplishes its tasks.

  • The administrative stuff
  • You should also outline how the manual is revised and distributed, how information to new to include is sent to the troops, and how you can waive any of the provisions in the manual. You might also want to include a table of contents and a record of revisions.


SMS, ICAO, ISBAO and other alphabetty spaghetti

The International Civil Aviation Administration (ICAO) dictates how things happen in aviation worldwide, with exceptions permitted within a country's airspace. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration has made quite a few exceptions, but has been working over the years to whittle those down in number. Even if you never venture outside the sovereign airspace of your country, ICAO rules will impact you at some point.

If you fly internationally, you will need a Safety Management System (SMS). Even if only fly domestically, you may find that an SMS is required by your operator or your insurance broker. You will definitely find that SMS will improve how you fly.

One of the ways you can demonstrate your adherence to SMS and other best practices is to get inspected by an approved auditor, such as the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), who can measure you against the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO).

This chapter includes references to ICAO Annexes, which are the regulations that cover international aviation. Among the references throughout this chapter:

  • "NX6" — Annex 6: Operation of Aircraft
  • "NX19" — Annex 19: Safety Management Systems


The chapter itself

Note: I have used "Acme Corp" as the company name. Unless that is your company's name, you should substitute your company's name wherever you see Acme Corp.

Acme Corp Operations Manual


[NX19 A.1.1, NX19 A.1.2]

This Company Operations Manual (COM) has been compiled for the use and guidance of Flight Department personnel in the execution of duties. It contains information and instructions to guide company flight operations.

Acme Corp Flight Department is dedicated to highly professional Flight Operations. Safety is our first priority, and we will continuously demonstrate high safety consciousness in our daily flight operations. Our flight operations mission is:

To be the provider of safe, reliable, high quality, and cost effective air transportation services that meet the needs of our company.

Acme Corp Flight Department operational and technical staff who operate professionally in accordance with the COM are guaranteed the full support of administrative staff. All staff members have a duty to openly and honestly report events and hazards. Such reports will be thoroughly investigated in a non-punitive manner.

Each of us will be expected to accept responsibility of and accountability for his/her own behavior. Each of us will have an opportunity to participate in developing safety standards and procedures. We will openly communicate information about safety incidents and will share the lessons learned with colleagues. Each of us will be concerned for the safety of others in our organization.

Acme Corp Flight Department recognizes the value of operating to a well recognized international standard. As corporate policy, Acme Corp operates to the standards developed and adopted by the International Business Aviation Council and of its Member Associations, including National Business Aviation Association. These standards employ best practices used widely in the business aviation community, as such, reflect the high standards of operational safety that we wish to achieve in this company.

Operations and maintenance personnel are to be familiar with this manual and are to comply with its provisions. Changes to the manual will be promptly disseminated to Flight Department personnel.

Acme Corp Flight Department employees are expected to comply with the provisions of this manual, with the understanding that safety and the best service to Acme Corp Flight Department will result only when they add the values of common sense, initiative, courtesy, personal integrity, reasonableness, and professionalism to these written standards.

The Director of Aviation carries full authority and responsibility to keep the COM current and to conduct operations in compliance with the manual.

______________________ (signature)

Accountable Executive

Acme Corp

______________________ (signature)

Director of Aviation

Acme Corp


The purpose of this manual is to enable Acme Corp Flight Department to provide safe, efficient, convenient, and secure air transportation for executives and designated guests of the Flight Department and its subsidiary companies. The manual seeks to support the aviation policies of Acme Corp Flight Department and provide detailed procedural guidance.

The provisions of this manual are intended neither to replace specific operational procedures established by an aircraft manufacturer, nor to contradict any state or federal rules or regulations. As aviation professionals, employees of the Flight Department are expected to be familiar with operating requirements and standards of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In addition, they are expected to conform to the procedures published in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM).

Each recipient of this manual and subsequent versions should carefully read the document as soon as it is received. Employees should discuss and seek clarification of any section they do not understand. They also should review the entire manual regularly to remain familiar with its contents.

While familiarity with the manual is essential, nothing supersedes exercising sound professional judgment in emergency situations. If inflight, employees will take whatever actions are necessary to maintain control of the aircraft and ensure the safety of passengers and crew. At all times employees will act promptly to safeguard the lives of others and to protect equipment and property from damage or loss.


The Director of Standards will ensure all members of the flight department receive updates to the manual as soon as they are available.

Document Handling and Storage

The Director of Aviation will ensure that any other Acme Corp personnel are aware of the latest information. The Director of Aviation will also electronically notify all personnel who are operating away from the main base of pertinent new information.

All documents, manuals, forms, etc. will be maintained current in a suitable electronic format and made available to flight crews and other Acme Corp employees as necessary for the execution of their duties and responsibilities. Only documents that cannot be produced in an electronic format will be kept in the original form accessible in a location where that document is most likely required to be accessed or displayed.

Even though a particular document must be kept in the original form, an electronic copy will also be maintained.

Crew Information File

Acme Corp will disseminate operational information to all personnel through the use of Company Directives and Bulletins. Information will be distributed to personnel via email. The Chief Pilot or his/her designee will require a “Return Receipt” as proof the information was read. A copy of the Directive or Bulletin and a record of the “Return Receipt” will be kept.

COM Waiver

The COM Waiver Form, is used by the Director of Aviation to waive the provisions of this manual when preplanned deviations are required.

Additionally, the form will be used to notify the Director of Aviation within three days after returning from a trip during which a deviation from the provisions of this manual has occurred.

The Director of Aviation will review COM Waivers periodically to monitor trends and recommend changes to the COM.



Published revisions to the manual will be issued when directed and/or approved by the Director of Aviation. Recommended changes will be coordinated with Flight Department employees.

Revised text will be highlighted by a vertical line in the margin of the page and will extend the length of the change. Each revised page will be dated and the revision number will appear in the header at the top of the page. In addition, at the front of each manual, a Record of Revisions will be maintained, and a List of Effective Pages for the manual will reflect the revision status of each page.

The Director of Aviation shall maintain the master copy of this manual in both printed and electronic forms. Individual manual holders are responsible for keeping their personal copies current by making changes as directed by public instructions and recording the revision number and date of posting on the Record of Revisions page near the front of the manual.

They may refer to the master copy to confirm currency. The Director of Aviation shall be responsible for the currency of aircraft copies.

Rules of Construction

Words importing the singular include the plural. Words importing the plural include the singular.

Words importing the masculine gender include the feminine.

Shall is used in an imperative sense.

May is used in a permissive sense to state authority or permission to do the act prescribed. The words “no person may” or “a person may not” mean that no person is required, authorized, or permitted to do the act prescribed.

Includes means “includes but is not limited to.”

COM Waiver Form


Company Operations Manual (COM) Waiver Form


Where to start

As you develop the other chapters you will come upon situations where you have to deviate from one of your standard operating procedures but you don't want this to be a regular occurrence. You need to think about who can waive your rules and what process that will take. So you may want to look at the waiver form in this chapter.

Once the manual is complete enough where you are willing to share it with your company, it will be time to get them to "buy in" and sign the preamble. This is optional if you are not flying internationally, but will be required under IS-BAO.


How to start

With each chapter it is a good idea to:

  1. Talk it over with your team, get their ideas on how to best accomplish the chapter's goals given your unique situation. All ideas are worth considering, write them down in a way the person offering it agrees fully captures the idea.
  2. Give the team time to digest the proposals.
  3. Ask the people with the right background to massage the ideas into concise concepts, then have your best wordsmith turn those concepts into paragraphs. The paragraphs need to be in plain spoken sentences, easy to read, and written at the fifth grade level of comprehension.
  4. Present the ideas to the group. Listen to any objections and seek consensus. Repeat the entire process if needed, but understand that the person in charge will eventually make a decision that becomes department policy. At the very least, stress that each policy can be tested on a trial basis and looked at again in the future.


Word file

You can download a Microsoft Word "docx" file of this chapter here: Acme Corp Operations Manual Chapter 0 - The Preliminaries.

Remember, this is your blank canvas to customize as you see fit.