Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Comparative Risk

October 23, 2015  By Corey Taylor

One of my favourite dictums can be summed up as, “wrenches turn nuts and hammers drive nails.” I use it a lot because I see many instances where people are in the wrong positions for their aptitude or are handed tasks they are ill prepared for and someone else should be doing.

This boils down to management’s failures to use the appropriate tool for the job. Not only do people in the wrong positions impact a company’s ability to deliver service to the client, the impact on said employee in terms of morale and job satisfaction (including their influence on their peers) is no small thing.

Expanding this concept to helicopters and the risks we, as operators, face, it is clear that some clients have failed to conduct a comparative risk assessment of their programs before issuing their various standards to be applied to helicopter operators. A quick review of basic risk assessment techniques shows this all too clearly. Although there are many methods and techniques most align with the basic five-step process:

  • Hazard Identification – What are the dangers and pitfalls we face?
  • Hazard Analysis – How likely is the hazard to affect us and how bad might it be
  • Control Development – What can we do to prevent or minimize the impact of a given hazard?
  • Implementation of Controls – Execute the policy or equipment changes necessary to control the risks we face to as low a level as possible.
  • Closed Feedback Loop – Check to see how the controls are working and make changes as necessary.

If we were to analyze a typical (Day VFR) helicopter job in Canada, whether it is mineral exploration, fire fighting or seismic, we would find that most of the hazards are shared in all circumstances. These would be confined areas, off level landings, uncontrolled staging areas with large FOD potential, fuel management challenges, visibility issues, traffic congestion, power line crossings, long distances to medical care, rapidly changing weather, capricious mountain winds and a variety of external loads.

If we were to apply the hazard control measures that we know would give us the biggest bang for our buck, we would be talking about appropriate experience levels for the pilot, sufficient training, management of landing sites (requires client participation), load control, fuel husbandry, weather minima specific to the project locale and season and a host of other considerations.


While the above may be obvious to those in the Canadian helicopter industry, it doesn’t seem to have trickled down to the desks of the various aviation consultancy firms out there. When you have auditors that ask you what the company’s “Stabilized Approach” policy is, you’ll know you’re in for trouble. Most companies in Canada, have a graduated process where pilots get more responsibility and opportunity as they gain experience.

After so many hours (hours are only one metric) of flat land flying, we get a mountain course. After so many hours and loads on the belly, we get going with a long line. After so many hours and loads with a long line, we start building drills. And after so many hours of building diamond drills, we get to swing seismic drills in the mountains or build towers on a windy peak. There is no safer way to do things.

Unfortunately, most clients have standards prepared by aviation consultancies or advisors that are predominantly based on an offshore background. The offshore standards with regard to aircraft and equipment are without argument the highest, because of the inability to land within a few minutes. The same cannot be said about the pilot requirements, however, as we see in so many of these standards documents. Oftentimes requiring IFR, unrestricted ATPH licenses, and many hours on type eliminate every qualified pilot in an operator’s stable.

By failing to understand the risks of the program, the client’s attempts to reduce or eliminate risk actually increases it. Since pilot decisions are still responsible for most accidents, we must do our best to choose the right ones, reducing this risk to an undetectable level.

Corey Taylor is vice-president of Global Business and Product Development for Great Slave Helicopters.


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