Things have changed considerably since I entered the aviation industry in 1977. With a noticeable shift in attitude toward safety, one area that has improved over time is the passenger safety briefing.
At Canadian Helicopters, we provide safety seminars for our customers as well as personnel safety briefings for our passengers before they commence a flight. The passenger briefing covers many aspects – all of which are very important and should not be taken lightly nor skimmed over. Things that may seem obvious are often worth stating.
It can certainly be challenging keeping everyone’s attention, so there are a few tricks to try to keep your clients interested. For example, when in a classroom setting, try to take advantage of the technology at your disposal, including PowerPoint and videos – it’s possible to cover the important safety points in so much more detail using these tools. Keep to the point and make it interesting: try not to read the points word for word (I myself find it boring having to listen to someone ramble on).
As we all know, there are a lot of dangers around a helicopter, as there are so many moving parts. The primary dangers are the main rotor and tail rotor blades, as they are almost invisible when turning; and with all the noise, people tend to get distracted and forget about safety. Over the years, there have been numerous incidents and accidents involving main rotor and tail rotor blades. It’s very important to always emphasize to your passengers never to approach or leave the helicopter until indicated by the pilot. Describe in detail the safe areas to approach and depart the helicopter, which, of course, will depend on the terrain of the landing area. For example, when departing a running helicopter, never walk up an incline or approach a helicopter that is downhill as you may walk right into the path of the blades.
I recall an incident that happened years ago involving a passenger who disregarded the exiting instructions. The aircraft had just landed on a beach with an embankment on the left-hand side. The passenger was instructed to continue on straight forward until he was well clear of the aircraft, at which point he was to proceed over the bank. The passenger acknowledged the instruction and got out and proceeded directly over the embankment – he was totally unaware of the danger he had put himself in. It was only luck that, with the engine in flight position, the blades were high enough to miss him and not decapitate him.
All of our aircraft carry survival packs, axes, saws, first-aid kits, fire extinguishers and an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) as part of our survival equipment. In sparsely settled areas, it may be required to carry more specific items for that type of terrain. During the briefing, all passengers should be shown the location of each item and how to use it in an emergency. Also, everyone should be aware of how the doors operate and how to use the emergency handles (if it pertains to the type of aircraft). Seatbelts should be used at all times, and everyone should know how to secure them and release them. There is nothing worse than coming in for a landing and hearing the click of someone taking off their seatbelt. Humour is a good way to grab your passengers’ attention. I tell everyone to remain in their seats with their seatbelts fastened until the aircraft comes to a complete stop, so that they don’t reach the landing area before we do. It seems to do the trick.
The tail rotor is a particularly dangerous area. Always inform passengers never to go around the rear of the helicopter, even if it is not running. I like to tell my passengers, “If you go around the rear of the helicopter and the tail rotor doesn’t get you, then I will . . . and it would probably be less painful if the tail rotor got you!”
No matter how careful you are, there is always the chance that something can go wrong, so never skimp on the details in your briefings. Remember, people are creatures of habit, so establishing good routines is important. If they are careless around a helicopter when it is not running, they may end up being careless when it is running.
With 18,000 hours of VFR and IFR flying under his belt, Scotty Aldie is a veteran pilot with Canadian Helicopters. Starting out with Viking Helicopters in 1977 (later amalgamated with Canadian Helicopters), he has been loyal to the same company for 34 years.
The Safety Briefing
Don’t Skimp on the Portions
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