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Banking on Safety

March in Vancouver means only one thing, at least in the aviation world. While the spring bulbs are blooming throughout the city and the first cherry blossoms appear on thousands of trees, the Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina in Vancouver will be packed with hundreds of people from around the world attending the ninth annual CHC Safety & Quality Summit.


March 8, 2013
By Paul Dixon

Topics

March in Vancouver means only one thing, at least in the aviation world. While the spring bulbs are blooming throughout the city and the first cherry blossoms appear on thousands of trees, the Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina in Vancouver will be packed with hundreds of people from around the world attending the ninth annual CHC Safety & Quality Summit.

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CHC shows its commitment to the industry through its highly successful Safety & Quality conference. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


 

The theme of this year’s summit is, “Building an Accident Free Legacy: Predictive Safety to Avoid ‘the Inevitable’.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “inevitable” as “sure to happen. What is bound to occur.” Inevitable can be used in several contexts to describe the outcome of events in relation to the safety summit.

The CHC Safety & Quality Summit started as an in-house, company training workshop. The first year in Prague drew 75 people from CHC’s world-wide operations. Greg Wyght, at the time CHC’s newly minted vice-president for safety and quality, brought CHC’s safety and quality managers together in one venue as a first step in the development of a single internal safety management system for the entire organization. Word spread across the industry of what CHC was doing and requests to attend the session started pouring in from others in the rotary-wing community to be allowed into the session.

As Wyght told Helicopters in a previous interview, this is a subject that carries across the entire industry. Safety is not a competitive issue and this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up. In 2013, more than 800 attendees representing every facet of the helicopter industry from all corners of the world will strain the facilities of the Bayshore in downtown Vancouver.

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CHC president/CEO Bill Amelio is a strong advocate of the Safety & Quality Summit, one of the industry’s “must-attend” events. (Photo by Paul Dixon)


 

The non-competitive nature of the safety summit has been amply demonstrated by the willingness of CHC president/CEO Bill Amelio to share the stage at the 2011 safety summit with Bill Chiles, the CEO of CHC’s largest competitor, Bristow Group, as the two of them spoke of the paramount importance of safety to the helicopter community.

It is made very clear during the opening remarks to everyone that this is a gathering of equals: there are no job titles or ranks, just first names. The summit is deliberately non-commercial – there is no concurrent trade show but the event succeeds in drawing sponsorship from the major players in the industry – AgustaWestland, Eurocopter, Sikorsky, Swiss Re, Chartis and Willis to name but a few. Without the distraction of a trade show, the speakers’ program is as broad as it is deep, offering up to 90 presentation slots over three days with as many as nine sessions running concurrently.

From the very beginning Wyght recalled in a previous interview with Helicopters that he was driven to develop a data-driven risk-management approach. He talked with industry insiders around the world, looked at universities and curricula, especially in terms of who was talking about the training realm and who was available. Based on his criteria, the best training he could find was through Peter Gardiner at the Southern California Safety Institute and a great relationship was forged. As president and CEO of the Southern California Safety Institute (SCSI), Dr. Gardiner’s goal was to provide the aviation community with the best tools and training available to reduce accident rates and at the same time increase the safety of those who fly.

Gardiner died in 2009, but his legacy lives on within the CHC safety summit with the awarding of an annual Dr. Peter Gardiner Aviation Student Grant. The award is underwritten jointly by CHC, HFACS Inc. and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering for the purpose of bringing a full-time engineering student to the summit and the three-day Accident/Incident Response Preparedness course that runs in conjunction with the event.

The co-founders of HFACS, Dr. Scott Shappell and Doug Wiegmann, are two very hands-on participants at the summit, offering a number of sessions over the three days on a range of subjects in the realm of human factors. Shappell’s packs in SRO crowds to his session provocatively titled, “Spin and Puke,” and taking a light-hearted yet thoroughly informative journey through the mysterious workings of the inner-ear and exploring the wide range of factors that can interfere with balance and perception.

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CHC’s fleet of 270 aircraft operates from 80 bases in 35 countries around the world. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


 

Shappell has the ability to present material that is as serious as a snakebite in an upbeat manner that fully engages his audience. For the opening plenary session of the 2012 summit, Shappell served as the moderator of a panel comprising of Tom Casey, Tony Kern and Steven Covey. Actually, provocateur may be a better description of his role in coercing three people at the top of their fields to share their thoughts on the theme of “improving safety culture through talent, training and trust.”

The human factors that influence aviation safety has been the cornerstone of the summit from the beginning and this focus has seen the summit develop as a catalyst or incubator for industry-wide safety initiatives. The Global Helicopter Flight Data Management (HFDM) Steering Group was formed as the result of a one-day workshop held the day following the 2009 event in Vancouver.  Mike Pilgrim, a longtime advocate of HFDM and CHC’s FDM Advisor for European Operations at the time, sensed the opportunity and was able to attract 70 people representing operators, manufacturers suppliers and other interested parties from the four corners of the globe. Pilgrim was driven to promote what he describes as “joined-up thinking,” which is exploiting the power of many across a broad spectrum to foster industry-wide adoption of the technology and the resultant improvements in safety.

Many conferences place as much or more emphasis on the social side, offering “fun” nights and cabaret nights, but the CHC Safety & Quality Summit stays on message pretty much from start to finish. It’s not a social gathering, but there is ample opportunity for networking and for like-minded types to get down into serious discussions. The after-dinner speakers in recent years have been the epitome of aviation safety: Capt. Al Haynes of United 232; U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon; and last year’s speaker, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger of US Air 1549.

They are all people who are larger than life, with lives that are as common as they were diverse, yet they had a common message – that being that they were able to survive the challenges that ultimately confronted them largely because they had spent their professional lives preparing for that moment. Someday, somewhere, something was going to happen and without knowing anything about “it” they had to be prepared. A particular concern for Cernan was the dependence of young pilots on technology, to the exclusion of the human side of the equation, of people being more concerned with “managing” the aircraft as opposed to flying it and the loss of, or failure to acquire, the intuitive skills.

Setting a Good Example
CHC definitely walks the walk as it continues to refine its operations on a global scale. After conceiving and nurturing the safety summit, Wyght marked his last year behind the podium in 2012. He was promoted to VP of systems operations and moved to Dallas to take charge of CHC’s new global operations centre. Patterned on the operations of major commercial airlines, all of CHC’s global operations will be tied into a common reporting structure on a real-time basis, a first in the helicopter industry.

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CHC walks the walk when it comes to safety, ensuring new aircraft are equipped with Flight Data Monitoring (FDM), Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS), Engine and Vibration Monitoring Systems, Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems, and Satellite Tracking and Communication. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


 

In a recent conversation with Helicopters, he once described the summit as simply a continuation of the concept of one CHC, one commitment and one global standard for safety. “One standard globally will drive a consistency that enables a level of monitoring (through common metrics) that will allow us to identify anomalies and avoid them. Identifying problems well in advance that are related to things like licensing, flight and duty limitations or even parts availability, supply chain and technical services (among others), will enable us to maintain a margin of safety through better planning and execution.”

Starting with approximately 60 employees, staffing will increase as more responsibilities are taken on by the centre, ultimately serving CHC’s fleet of 270 aircraft operating from 80 bases in 35 countries around the world.

In a project that addresses safety while maintaining operational reliability, CHC is participating with other operators in the development and testing of a Triggered Lightning Forecast algorithm for the North Sea. The U.K. Meteorological Office, with funding from North Sea oil and gas producers, has identified the factors involved in triggered lightning, which is lightning that occurs in areas where it is not anticipated.

Triggered lightning occurs during the winter months over the North Sea when certain conditions occur, a combination of temperature, precipitation and wind velocity creating conditions that lead to the helicopter actually precipitating the lightning simply by its proximity. While strikes are relatively rare, there have been several helicopters lost or severely damaged in recent years and even though a helicopter may initially appear undamaged from a lightning strike, damage can exist that is difficult to identify without taking the aircraft out of service for a lengthy investigation. Although the project is ongoing, recent data speaks of an 80 per cent success rate in identifying areas that meet the established criteria for triggering lightning, a strategy that allows pilots to detour around the danger zone while still being able to complete their mission.

CHC employs technology as part of its ongoing commitment to safety. New aircraft are equipped with safety enhancements during post delivery modification, including Flight Data Monitoring (FDM), Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS), Engine and Vibration Monitoring Systems, Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems, and Satellite Tracking and Communication. A byproduct of this approach is a reduction in the environmental impact of operations and a reduction in downtime resulting from unscheduled maintenance events.

The use of HUMS has become commonplace in the fixed-wing sector and is growing in acceptance in he rotary-wing world. It is standard or at least optional equipment on new machines and many operators are retrofitting HUMS to their existing fleets as in investment in predicative safety, monitoring anomalies that can lead to expensive failures in components such as engines and gearboxes. Flight data recording in itself is a significant improvement to helicopter operations in its own right.

From a business perspective, HUMS increase helicopter availability and ultimately reduce operator costs. The U.S. army ran a comparison on two helicopter units of the 101 Airborne operating UH-60 Blackhawks, one unit equipped with HUMS and one without. The helicopters of the HUMS-equipped unit were reported as flying 27 per cent more missions than the other group and maintained a higher readiness rate. An even more important benefit was a significant reduction in the number of serious accidents.

The collaborative approach within CHC and its robust reporting structure that encourages communications upwards, downwards and laterally, integrated with the one-world global operations centre is what makes the technology work. Information sharing combined with technology is the heart of the solution and allows lessons learned are to be shared across the organization and applied by pilots, mechanics, technicians and others throughout the supply chain to predict and prevent future incidents.


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