Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Chopper Phobia

If we wish to acquire more business revenue and increased profits, we need to convince the general public that helicopter flight is not only convenient but also safe and virtually no threat to the public.


June 11, 2007
By Ken Armstrong

Topics

Helicopters are noisy, dangerous and a threat to public safety.

That’s
certainly not my opinion, but participants in a recent CBC talk show
spoke strongly to this effect, reinforcing that a large percentage of
our population have a negative view of our fling-wing machines. How
could they possibly think that way when our services are so beneficial?

Could
it be the police and emergency medical service helicopters droning
overhead or the pervasive searchlights interrupting citizens’ peace and
privacy at night? Or, could it be the well-publicized news helicopters
crashing into busy downtown intersections after tail rotor failures or
similarly disadvantaged helicopters bouncing across rooftops? How about
the “gyro-gear-loose” pilot landing in a densely inhabited area and
blowing dust, dirt and debris into every nook and cranny? The point is
that we are often unaware of the opinion we leave with observers in the
course of accomplishing our tasks. We see a successful autorotation
with no injuries, and the public sees high-risk activities. If we wish
to acquire more business revenue and increased profits, we need to
convince the general public that helicopter flight is not only
convenient but also safe and virtually no threat to the public.

Since
improving public opinion is a daunting, long-term task, it requires a
large progressive organization to head up the effort. For us, that
likely means an industry group like the Helicopter Association of
Canada. However, any efforts by HAC must be augmented by action from
industry and individuals. What can we do?

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First, pilots and
operator management can improve public perception in the ways that we
present ourselves. My mammy taught me that uniforms are attractive –
because they garner respect. Professional presentation goes a long way
toward potential customer confidence. Similarly, pre-flight safety
briefings should be delivered in a manner that commands respect. There
is a delicate balance between covering all of the mandatory safety
items and leaving passengers struck with fear. Paying attention to
their comfort during the flight is also important, including
temperature and ventilation control, minimizing the effects of
turbulence, and not scaring them by showing off your finesse by flying
under wires and close to animal life. In other words, conduct your
flight like an airline crew would. Remember, your prowess and service
skills will be assessed and recounted by the occupant with the
queasiest stomach….

Helicoptering should be safer now because
our past accident record has forced Transport Canada to burden us with
additional courses, more currency requirements, flight time (read
revenue) limitations and additional training. And if our record doesn’t
improve, it’s TC’s mandate to increase the regulatory burden – ad
infinitum. Is this what we want? I think not! The likelihood of
regulations being increased is directly proportional to the number of
weak links in our industry. Pilots who take chances, break the law or
risk their clientele should be reported to their company or to
regulators. We can no longer afford them in our profession as they
destroy it for everyone else.

The challenge is to complete the
flight in an efficient, smooth manner that maximizes the safety margins
for those who have entrusted you with their lives – to fly the perfect
flight. On shutdown, if you can honestly concede absolutely nothing
could have been performed better, you have succeeded. Good luck! While
the goal may not be achievable, it’s worth striving toward and it
brings the challenge back into flying – in a safe manner.

Similarly,
companies need to meet the regulations for training and documentation
and a host of other regulatory tasks. Yes, it’s a hassle and creates no
cash flow, but if you don’t, you will be facing an increasingly higher
wall of rules and paperwork and less time for creating profits.

We
all know there are pilots and companies commonly violating safety
practices and – in case you thought it was a big secret – Transport
Canada knows too. It’s a lot easier for us to clean up our act than for
the regulator to continue trying to push upward on a resistant rope.
Don’t just talk about safety. As the young folks say; “Get real!”
Failure on the part of management to convince aircrew to follow the
regulations, without exception, will cause greater losses in
decisionmaking freedom. Eventually we will be so controlled and
regulated, our jobs will become similar to train conductors. Is this
what we want?

If you are one of the companies that never break
regulations or common-sense practices when it comes to safety, you can
disregard the preceding….


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