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Best Practices, Best Idea

June 2, 2009  By Ken Armstrong

For years my condemnation of Transport Canada’s senior leaders for their ineffective helicopter safety program has proven clairvoyant. Accident rates are abysmally high! Now, some helicopter folks are doing something that I believe will shrink the industry’s ugly statistics.

For years my condemnation of Transport Canada’s senior leaders for
their ineffective helicopter safety program has proven clairvoyant.
Accident rates are abysmally high! Now, some helicopter folks are doing
something that I believe will shrink the industry’s ugly statistics. 

Canada’s forestry aviation managers and the Helicopter Association of
Canada (HAC), after much consulting, have put a brilliant plan into
action whereby novice and experienced helicopter crews now have broad
spectrum guidelines that provide standards and training guidance. These
prepare aviators for the gruelling challenges associated with the
wide-ranging tasks related to fire suppression. The buzzword for this
enlightening activity is “best practices.” This specific program will
allow relatively low time pilots to fly on forestry missions without
needing to obtain 1,000–1,500 hours of flight experience. Co-operation
is necessary in that an operator must train these low time aircrews in
the specific flying, administrative and personal skills to safely
accomplish forestry’s goals. Nothing is free. Companies are going to
have to invest in more ground school and additional flight training to
get their pilots up to speed to qualify them for these best practices.
After training, the operator then essentially certifies its personnel
as qualified. What happens if forestry determines a pilot can’t cut the
mustard after the training and certification? Forestry personnel
observe they will tend to provide easier tasks initially to low time
certified pilots and as they prove themselves, more challenging tasks
will be assigned. Of course, aircrew members who do not meet the grade
will initially undergo discussions with senior firefighters to meet
acceptable levels. If pilots are unable to achieve the standards, they
will be asked to leave. If a company continues to provide sub standard
aircrew they will find themselves sitting on the sidelines. So, in the
end run, the onus is on the operator to ensure its staff are able to
meet the best practices. This is the ideal motivation and is destined
to achieve higher safety standards.

We need to create this caring safety culture to protect our employees
and customers.  Increasing your staff’s knowledge and skills are prime
methods for achieving this objective. Attendees at HAC’s Best Practices
presentation asked what would happen to operators who do not adopt
these training/recurrency activities. The term and concept of “bottom
feeders” was often repeated and consensus was that their “fishy”
operations would by caught in the net of customer dissatisfaction and
they would be left in the field to rot and become fertilizer. OK, I’ll
admit that I may have cast too far with that metaphor….

A few company representatives complained about the cost of additional
training and paperwork; however, they really need to consider the costs
of an accident! These include the loss of the deductible during a
claim, loss of flying revenue, loss of trained crew and potentially a
lost liability case when the court finds you negligent for not
embracing best practices. When one tallies the losses and additional
expenses related to a helicopter accident, additional training costs
are a bargain – essentially a form of self-insurance. Moreover, an
operator bears the responsibility of providing the best safety culture
he can provide for crews and clients. Quite frankly, if you don’t
wholly support this logic and level of safety, no one really wants you
in this industry.


While discussing HAC’s contributions it should be noted the
sub-committees have created other guideline documents that are
available as downloads to everyone on HAC’s website www.h-a-c.ca/ .
These include: Class “D” External Loads, Heli Skiing and Belly Hook
Switch Position (HAC Recommended practice). This organization has
evolved very strongly since your scribe stood up in Las Vegas years ago
at the HAI convention and passionately proposed Canada needed its own
organization largely to overcome the destructive tariff wars between
companies. OK, this hasn’t happened yet, but sometime in the future one
hopes the rate cutting will abate so increased monies for crews,
operators and maintenance will also benefit safety margins.

Other available downloads worthy of reading include the Industry
Self-Management Feasibility Study as well as an excellent XLS program
to analyze costs for setting tariffs and a sample contract that can be
used between an operator and client. These tools/guidelines can save a
great deal of effort and money.

So, if you are not a member of the Helicopter Association of Canada,
you might want to consider the question, “If you aren’t part of the
solution, maybe you are part of the problem?”  It’s lovely to have
something to laud….

Ken Armstrong is an ATP rated pilot who has likely flown more
helicopter types than anyone in the world and has taught advanced
flying skills in dozens of countries.


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