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The STARR and Guidance Safety Partnership

by STARR COMPANIES, Global Insurance and Investments

Guidance Aviation, a Part 141 flight training academy in Prescott, Arizona, specializes in high altitude flight training.  As the first FAA approved Part 141 helicopter high altitude training facility in the U.S., Guidance has been producing professional aviators since 1998, in which the program began with a single helicopter.

Now, Guidance, a success story in and of itself, operates a sixteen ship fleet and is still growing. Through its collegiate partnership, Guidance students acquire their Associate of Applied Science Degree and a Certified Flight Instructor Instrument Rating in less than 21 months. This successful relationship has grown to be the largest collegiate helicopter flight training program in the country.

Guidance, recognized as one of the industry leaders in rotor wing flight training, strengthened its commitment to safety in September of 2010 as they took on another first. The Safety Management System (SMS) initiative, encouraged by the FAA beginning in 2007, is not required for Part 141 operators. Yet Guidance, once again, took the forward looking approach and began implementation of their own SMS program, one of the first rotor wing training schools to do so. Their goal is to provide an environment centered around safety for all Guidance employees, inclusive of both instructors and their student pilots.

With a renewed safety philosophy at hand, Guidance knew they needed a methodical and formalized
approach to organization and standardization for a successful Safety Management System. Chris Horton, Manager of Flight Operations, explains; “Guidance was looking for progress checks from industry experts. We have the safety background in academics, but we needed processes for application.” Insert Starr Aviation, a Division of Starr Indemnity & Liability Company, and Guidance’s insurance provider. Starr Aviation’s dedicated Safety & Loss Control (SLC) team, comprised of three Certified Safety Professionals with extensive aviation safety experience, stepped in to assist after an introduction from Guidance’s broker, Airika Ackermann, with Sutton James. Thus, with a consistent and dedicated effort from all parties involved, the SMS process began to enhance the safety culture of Guidance.

The Starr & Guidance Safety Partnership

Recognizing Safety Excellence

The Starr SLC team’s extensive background in SMS enabled them to utilize their customer focused approach within Guidance, centering on advice and recommendations, void of criticism, while essentially becoming an extension of the client’s safety department. Starr aimed to provide tangible services, and after thorough evaluation and work with Guidance, Starr did just that. Guidance’s list of accomplishments in a follow up visit was extensive and impressive, ranging from survival kits customized for the Northern Arizona environment, to Electronic Flight Bag (iPad) utilization including traffic avoidance, in addition to online hazard reporting, followed by prompt action taken to mitigate identified risks. Airika Ackermann, broker, comments on the progress seen; “We’ve worked with Guidance for over a decade now and know they have been proactive in promoting a culture of safety from the start. We have found Starr to be a great partner for them in that regard. Starr’s safety and loss control services have been instrumental in assisting Guidance with the development of their Safety Management System. We’re looking forward to the next ten years and to watching Guidance Aviation continue to grow and thrive while holding themselves to such high safety standards.”

Guidance did not stop there however, but continued to further advance their SMS with the Starr SLC team’s  highly recommended safety culture survey, given to all Guidance employees. The results solidified Guidance’s safety progress with a score of 100.2, indicative of a highly positive safety culture. Chris Horton commented; “Not only did the Safety Culture Survey provide a benchmark that validated resources given by upper management, both financially and time wise, but it also confirmed the validity of SMS to all employees. Starr’s involvement and guidance has been critical, as they provide an unbiased third party requesting honest feedback from our team members. The support and service we receive from Starr Aviation is phenomenal. They get down to specifics, not generalities, and give us recommendations unique to our operation. It is Starr’s hands-on, onsite approach that we appreciate the most, as they literally bring in an alternative perspective to Guidance’s safety approach”.

Safety practices too often hold a negative connotation for aviation operators, who view safety protocols as limiting.  However, Guidance’s outlook on safety and SMS only proves the opposite, which Greg Freeman, Vice President of Starr Aviation’s Safety and Loss Control team, comments on; “Guidance’s commitment to safety and the construction of a Safety Management System is unparalleled. Their progress is well above average as they value the information and direction we provide and then dedicate the necessary resources to implement the core SMS requirements and beyond. The partnership between Guidance and Starr has already improved loss ratios, as Guidance is going on multiple years of a loss free operation, which is a win for everyone. We look forward to what the future holds for the Starr, Sutton James and Guidance partnership.”

Guidance put in the necessary work, effort and time to be not only a successful  operation, but to develop procedures to be a successful safe operation. Subsequently, Guidance’s growth, loss ratio and industry recognition provide evidence that an operation can succeed and thrive not in spite of safety, but because of it.


Guidance Aviation provides high altitude helicopter and fixed wing flight training utilizing the newest aircraft and best equipment available. For more information, go to or

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