Innovate Don’t Stagnate
Operators Must Keep Investing in New Technologies
Don’t look now, but the world has been changing around us in every way imaginable. People are living longer, healthier lives, crime is the lowest it has ever been, never has so much wealth been created across the widest possible range of demographics, and at the same time, never have so many people been so pessimistic about the future and the passing of “the good ol’ days.”
Perhaps sometimes we don’t realize the old days weren’t that good if we really measure, as our beliefs aren’t always fact based; we often see in the world of negative politics as if that dictates the current state of the world.
When it comes to technology in helicopters, look how far we’ve come. The improvements in reliability (translation safety) aside, helicopters are faster, smoother, quieter, roomier and sexier than ever. Not many operators are promoting first or second generation aircraft anymore, although I do see the odd Hiller fly by.
With so many improvements will we see broad fleet renewal in Canada anytime soon? It seems doubtful, for two reasons. First, there simply isn’t the money right now to talk about running out and buying new Mk V helicopters. Second, there are market nichés not easily filled by new aircraft, for cost of acquisition reasons, yes, but also due to capability. What can really replace a 205++ in the market it services? The venerable 212, while no longer seen offshore, probably delivers the highest margins of any medium twin, while reliably producing day after day.
Since there are no clear replacements and no financial freedom to do so even if we wanted to, can we still improve our operations, even just incrementally? The answer is a resounding yes. Every operator needs to invest in products that can help drive the cultural shift in safety both here in Canada and around the world. For example, install flight data monitors in your helicopters and review the data they produce.
When pilots realize they’re not alone out there, maybe we’ll have seen our last tragedy from “diving at the moose” syndrome. If you install exceedance monitors in every aircraft moving external loads, maybe we’ll never get another customer request for their “favourite pilot” – the one who can fly faster, longer and higher than anyone else. Levelling the playing field will eliminate competition amongst peers, and will also quiet those voices in our own heads, the ones that are constantly wondering if we’re doing all we can to please the client.
There are even cheap HUMS units for most legacy helicopters available now, which should be mandatory for aircraft that work primarily in areas that preclude landing quickly in the event of an emergency.
Aside from the hardware that is going to help us get that accident rate even lower, some of the software products that are available now are astounding. In the same way that “wizards” made computer program installation accessible to anyone with thumbs, new safety software can replace thousands of hours of annual labour, while automating much of the process.
There is an adage that says, “nothing can be made idiot-proof because idiots are so ingenious,” but I was just exposed to safety management software that can take a company from thinking SMS is when you send your buddy a text message, to an advanced state of corrective action plan closures in just a few months. In two days, a room full of pilots and engineers, with no previous experience, became safety and risk technicians. I am still amazed.
All we need now is the cooperation of clients to truly “risk rate” all we do, so we can get the right aircraft for the job, the right pilot flying it, and the right mix of ground and maintenance support to ensure uninterrupted service. I look forward to the day that we look at a project, determine the risks, build a profile of aircraft and crew to make sure it’s done safely – and then not have a client come in and show us their prescriptive requirements. This usually disqualifies everyone in the company and requires finding somebody who’s flown a triple-engined heavy helicopter, in IMC, on NVGs, offshore of the coast of Antarctica.
If we as an industry can get everyone on the same page, instead of working in opposition, maybe we can get that accident rate to finally approach zero. It’s a tall order for sure, but with all the progress around us, surely it’s possible.
Corey Taylor is the vice-president of business development for Newfoundland’s Universal Helicopters.
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