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Exploits of Three Wise Men

Creating a safety culture that strives to eliminate accidents and creates an open, proactive working environment is a goal shared by a strong majority of operators in the Canadian helicopter industry.


October 27, 2014
By Matt Nicholls


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Creating a safety culture that strives to eliminate accidents and creates an open, proactive working environment is a goal shared by a strong majority of operators in the Canadian helicopter industry. In this issue of  Helicopters magazine, we highlight three pioneers in the national landscape who have not only taken their own operations to higher levels of safety excellence, but have extended their reach to help transform the industry on a national and global scale.

late Grant Louden  
The late Grant Louden (middle) was instrumental in developing HAC’s Best Practices. (Photo courtesy of Skyline Helicopters)


 

The Universal Approach: Geoff Goodyear
For Geoff Goodyear, working to create a strong safety culture is not only a sound business practice, but it’s an absolute necessity. As Goodyear is the leader of one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most prominent helicopter operators and works in some of the harshest conditions in Canada, such a premise is paramount in ensuring his clients’ expectations are met.

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Universal Helicopters’ Geoff Goodyear has won many honours for his commitment to safety. (Photo courtesy of Universal Helicopters)  

It’s a commitment to excellence that has paid off in spades. Universal recently celebrated more than 50 years in operation and established its mark as one of the strongest operators on the East coast. With its head office in Goose Bay, Labrador and bases in Pasadena, Gander and St. John’s, Newfoundland, Universal operates 20 aircraft throughout the high Arctic and Eastern Canada and specializes in wide variety of natural resource-based and government operations.

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Universal’s comprehensive aviation safety management program is a shining example of the safety culture that governs all aspects of daily operations at the company’s four bases. The company’s Safety Management System (SMS) is based on the recording and analysis of all safety related events including incidents, accidents, occurrences and hazards. On the technology front, all Universal aircraft in the fleet are equipped with SKYTRAC low earth orbit and GPS flight following equipment, enabling effective tracking of aircraft in isolated, uninhabited areas. The fleet is also equipped with Digital Voice Interface (DVI), which provides satellite voice and limited data communications from all aircraft.

A dedicated pilot for more than three decades, Goodyear has also been recognized for his leadership in working to enhance global and national safety standards, winning prominent awards including the Canadian Aviation Safety Award from Transport Canada and the Innovation in Safety Award from Airbus Helicopters Canada. So where did such a strong safety commitment come from and how does Goodyear feel about such impressive accolades?

“I’m human, like everyone else, and when someone pats someone on the back and gives an ‘Atta boy’ it makes you feel great,” Goodyear says in his self-effacing, humble way. “The fact that it is a rather noble pursuit and when the accolades come from people who are well versed and heeled in the industry, it makes it all that more poignant.”

As Goodyear explains, the development of a strong safety culture at Universal was as much about intention as it was necessity. Working in very remote and austere environments, as many operators do, it necessitated a plan that was imperative as opposed to a convenience. Establishing a strong safety culture was also shaped on simplicity and accountability – a buy in from all employees was paramount and the commitment started from the top.

influencing the hearts  
Safety is about influencing the hearts and minds of your personnel, Geoff Goodyear says. (Photo courtesy of Universal Helicopters)


 

“If you put it in a crucible and condensed it down, you could say that you want to keep the system as simple as possible to keep people interested,” Goodyear says. “You’ve got to be able to provide appropriate feedback not only statistically but also what actions have they taken, again to keep people interested but also to show positive affect.”

Goodyear has certainly experienced events that have helped shape his own safety envelope and refine his safety perspective. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about some of the events that we have had over the years,” he says. “It is an indication that suggests that even with your absolute best efforts and intentions, that sometimes, unfortunate things happen to good people in an organization. It does underscore as well that ‘safety achievements’ are actually what I would call ‘safety challenges.’ ”

Recognizing the attributes, skill sets, roles and personalities of all team members is paramount in achieving a sound safety culture, as is ensuring that your safety is built on open communication and the sharing of information, Goodyear stresses. Building strong communications channels, enhancing training efforts, tapping innovative new technologies, working closely with clients to establish top operating standards – it’s all helped Universal continue on the path of developing a safe corporate environment.

“Going along with the challenge theme – and it’s not just at Universal, I would respectfully suggest at any organization – the biggest challenge is not only making sure your safety management processes are being followed properly, but you’ve got their hearts and minds as well,” Goodyear says.

The Power of Information: Paul Spring, Phoenix Heli-Flight
Like Goodyear, Phoenix Heli-Flight president/operations manager Paul Spring has taken the quest to develop the safest operating environment both on a national and international scale to a whole new level. With more than 40 years in the aviation industry and some 13,000 hours as a pilot on single- and twin-engine helicopters, Spring has a well-rounded perspective on all aspects of an operation – from the men and women who fly aircraft, to those that key the blades turning. He began his career as an aircraft maintenance engineer upon graduation from North Bay, Ont.’s Canadore College, before returning there to earn his commercial rotary-wing licence.

Paul Spring  
Phoenix Heli-Flight's Paul Spring is a passionate safety innovator. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Heli-Flight)


 

A strong advocate of technology and innovation, Spring has worked hard to instill a strong safety culture at his Fort McMurray, Alta.-based operation, one that has developed gradually since the operation’s inception in 1991. Phoenix Heli-Flight operates a fleet of 10 single- and twin-engine Airbus Helicopter Canada machines for a variety of missions, including oil exploration, wildlife management and surveys, forestry, construction, fire suppression and more. The company also provides dedicated Medevac service to the Wood Buffalo, Alta. region under its fledgling “HERO” brand with its new EC135 T2e aircraft, equipped with the latest flight tracking, night vision goggles (NVG) and helicopter flight data monitoring (HFDM) technology.

A passionate believer in the premise that you can never have enough information, Spring has taken his personal and professional interest in HFDM technology and transformed his operation. Coupled with a strong SMS policy, an open, proactive safety culture, and a commitment to ensuring the fleet is on the cutting edge of technological enhancements, it’s a valuable recipe for success. It has also garnered Spring a number of key industry award.

Spring was also a founding member of the Global Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring Steering Group, which was formed in 2010, and for the past four years has made presentations on the benefits of HFDM to hundreds of industry professionals across the globe.

When it comes to establishing a sound safety culture, he not only endorses technological tools such as HFDM, but stresses the importance of understanding that the process is not a quick fix – it takes a dedicated buy-in from both employees and clients. “It’s not any one thing really, it’s just a building process,” he says. “I was probably one of those hot dog pilots who didn’t take it (safety) seriously – a cowboy. I enjoy flying helicopters, it is a lot of fun, and doing crazy things with them, too, but I’ve changed along with the industry and the clients. In the old days you got a job as a 100-hour pilot and they threw you in the machine, you went away for the summer and you taught yourself.”

Spring says “evolution” is perhaps the best word to describe how a sound safety culture is established – that creating the right environment certainly doesn’t happen over night. It takes initiative, hard work, commitment and the proper perspective and attitude. There are also certain lightening rod events that are bound to shape you and help you drive change.

“After 16 years of operation, we had our first crash and out of the five people on board, four walked away – but one didn’t,” Spring says. “And in analyzing that wreck, it was completely preventable if we had of known how that pilot behaved. If we had some insight, we could have stopped that one. And I venture to guess that there are accidents everywhere that could have been prevented if the operator had known what was going on.”

With HFDM, Spring is now more equipped to understand operational aspects that will help enhance security, and he’s also in a better position to educate clients on the challenges and dangers of mission realities. He is also quite pleased with the commitment level developing within the industry from both clients and industry suppliers, but cautions more needs to be done on an individual basis in order for real change to occur.

“The biggest thing I have learned and I can tell people is self assessment – you need to look in the mirror,” Spring says. “If you can impart the skill to people to realistically assess performance, then you have a live safety culture . . . and it has to be live. It has to be working every day, it has to be people thinking. You have given them the thinking skills to prevent themselves from making errors or doing the wrong thing.”

Establishing Best Practices: Grant Louden, Skyline Helicopters
Two of the main objectives HAC attempts to deliver to its Canadian members are promoting the continuing enhancement of flight safety and educating operators and clients about the issues most pertinent to the industry.

One of the industry leaders who spent countless hours working to achieve these goals in the advent of making the Canadian industry as safe as possible was the late Grant Louden, the former president of Skyline Helicopters. Established in 1996, Skyline has specialized in vertical reference longline mountain operations for more than 18 years, with a strong focus on the oil and gas, forestry and heli-skiing sectors. The company has two bases in Kelowna and Terrace, B.C.

Louden, who passed away at 59 on January 26 of this year, was a driving force in establishing a safe working environment not only at Skyline, but throughout the industry. An accomplished pilot, Louden was a mentor and industry leader in a true sense of the word – giving back to the industry he loved with dignity and professionalism. Among his many safety accomplishments over an exemplary career:

  • Flying more than 15,000 accident free hours in a variety of missions including mountain time, heli-skiing, longlining and more
  • Developing an integrated safety management system at Skyline that exceeded all industry standards for “live” safety management and processes
  • Working with a variety of industry associations outside of the helicopter industry including the IHST, HeliCat Canada, the Canadian Aviation Executives’ Safety Network (CAESN), Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace (CCAA), the Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors and the Oil and Gas Producers association to promote safety outside the helicopter industry
  • Developing and enhancing virtually all of HAC’s Best Practices, the guiding force of its safety policies across various sectors of the industry.

It’s an impressive body of work, one Louden managed  in addition  to his piloting and management duties, making strong connections with clients and leading a successful operations of likeminded, dedicated professionals. His commitment to safety was beyond reproach, but to those who knew him best, his drive to create the most efficient, safest work environment possible was simply an extension of the person he was.

“It was just the nature of his character,” says Teri Northcott, president and operations manager at Resource Helicopters and Grant’s widow. Northcott and Louden spent hours working on the HAC Board to establish the highest safety standards possible. “He was very thorough, very detailed, very pragmatic . . . extremely passionate about his work, his business, his technical flying skills. And he was kind of a big deal. He had 15,000 accident free hours and not everyone can say that.”

Paul Spring is a pioneer  
Paul Spring is a pioneer in implementing HFDM technology. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Heli-Flight)


 

Rod Wood, president of Avialta Helicopters in Sturgeon County, Alta., was both a longtime colleague and friend of Louden’s. The two trained as fledgling pilots at Niagara Helicopters and were close friends while they traversed the helicopter landscape, moving through various stages of their careers. And while Wood was not directly involved in the safety battles his friend fought for the industry, he is well aware that Louden was passionate about making a difference at a very early age.

“I think Grant picked it (a commitment to safety) up early in his career,” Wood says. “He understood the necessity of mitigating risks, and I think as a skilled pilot, he was always on the leading edge of innovation and using a helicopter to solve a problem of the customers. He knew that in order to do a good job, you kind of have to evaluate your risks and figure out where you need to be in terms of maintaining a safe operation.

Wood suggests that Louden knew the intrinsic value of developing a sound safety culture from the top down, and how it could set Skyline Helicopters apart from other small operators in the industry. “Grant saw safety as a win-win for the client and Skyline,” Wood says. “It was a marketing objective, building a reputation that you can sell on. They were pushing a safety culture long before small operators saw the value in it.”

Louden was also aware of using the association to drive the safety message home to the masses. He knew this was a great way to work with members to promote the safety message and help them step forward and become conduits for change.

In assessing the future and what needs to be done to continue to develop the safest working environment possible, Wood is optimistic that the groundwork that Louden helped establish continues to flourish, especially for smaller operators.

“I am optimistic that we can continue to work at developing the safest environment possible and I believe Grant was optimistic that we were are getting there,” Wood said. “But the danger is that the competitiveness of our industry makes it difficult at times to achieve this. There is much more to be done.”

Much more to be done, indeed, but thanks to the work of safety leaders such as Goodyear, Spring and Louden, the Canadian helicopter industry is well on its way.


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