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Changing the Process

The mid-20th century scientist, M.J. Moroney, once wrote that, “A statistical analysis, properly conducted, is a delicate dissection of uncertainties, a surgery of suppositions.”


January 12, 2015
By Walter Heneghan

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The mid-20th century scientist, M.J. Moroney, once wrote that, “A statistical analysis, properly conducted, is a delicate dissection of uncertainties, a surgery of suppositions.”

This is a lovely sentiment and sets the tone for this month’s column – that the statistics provided to the helicopter community by Transport Canada (TC) and the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) are an important adjunct to how we manage risk in our operation, lest we fail even this small test of being a delicate dissection of uncertainties.

A commonly used adage for good management practice and quality control is the statement that “You cannot manage what you do not measure.” Many companies track a variety of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) but the standard in our industry is the accident rate/major incident rate. These rates are often tracked as accidents per 100,000 hours. Other elements of the Canadian aviation marketplace mark the rate per million passenger miles flown or accident rate per million “movements.”

For our purposes, we will stick to the per 100,000 hour standard. Recently, at the Helicopter Association of Canada’s (HAC) annual conference, representatives from the TSB presented data about the industry. The presentation included data showing a downward trend in the accident rate from about 8 per 100,000 hours in 2003 to slightly more than 5.5 per 100,000 hours in 2012. This chart seemed to indicate a good trend in managing risk in our industry.

Great news, right? This data would be a good backdrop for individual companies to measure their own performance except for one small point. Access to this data is spotty and difficult and needs to be much more transparent. This situation mirrors the issue that the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) encountered when it began its analysis of industry data back in 2006 and was a sore point of Dr. Ira Blumen’s team in that they were forced to extrapolate data in order to generate meaningful statistics and thus measurable goals.

TC requires that companies report actual hours flown on their aircraft on an annual basis through the filing of the Annual Airworthiness Information Report (AAIR). This data presumably is then collated to feed the snapshot for total hours flown in the industry. This information provides the cornerstone for data collection, yet the data is strangely hidden from view. The fact that data is embargoed is frankly typical of most government agencies, but for aviation safety purposes, I find the outcome difficult to fathom. This is mirrored in some extent as well in how the TSB reports and publishes its data. Our community deserves better; so in fact, we should create better data.

I propose that the helicopter industry in Canada remove itself from the vagaries of government processes and start collecting its own data. I also think that the HAC is the prime candidate to facilitate this process by engaging its member companies to commit to full and open participation.  We would need to come to consensus about how operations are classified, and have a neutral “gate-keeper” for collecting, collating and publishing the information. There would be no need to collect registration information on activities although general geographical area would be instructive. The industry itself could begin this process first by collecting annual usage data and then on a “go forward” basis, start an incident/occurrence/close call/hazard-reporting database.

 Many unique operators would feed the database and then be able to access the collective, accumulated data, by region, by time of year, by type, by operation – the sky is the limit really. The annual convention could then add an additional dimension by enjoining a conversation about our activities as an industry, manifested from data that we have provided for our own purposes and from our own operational activities. This would be a fantastic outcome.

Too often, we find ourselves beholden to the regulatory agencies and this proposal would completely remove TC from this critical aspect of how we all manage risk in our safety management processes. As an industry collective we would own the data and, I sense, we would see it yield tremendous results that may even provide unforeseen gems of insight that could improve our industry, and assist in the development of best practices in those areas that are highlighted.

In order to see the real benefits of Deming’s axiom, then let’s conduct the measurement of our activities ourselves so that we can benefit from the information to produce a more mature safety management solution. It will help us manage risk better – and save lives.


Walter Heneghan is the Vice President for Health, Safety and Environmental Protection with the Summit Air Group of Companies, Ledcor Resources and Transportation, based in Edmonton and throughout Western Canada.


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