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Going That Extra Mile

An owner of a helicopter company once questioned me as to why he should be hiring high time pilots for normal charter operations when pilots still looking to build hours were so enthusiastic and not wanting to overlook the smallest detail.


January 15, 2013
By Michael Bellamy

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An owner of a helicopter company once questioned me as to why he should be hiring high time pilots for normal charter operations when pilots still looking to build hours were so enthusiastic and not wanting to overlook the smallest detail.

The owner wasn’t looking for an answer, just stating what he determined to be fact, which he had gained from years of personal experience. He went on to describe instances of pilots having reached a milestone in their logbook. These pilots had the notion that they no longer had to exert themselves other than just to fly the helicopter.

The said pilots arrived five minutes before the planned departure time and immediately upon their return, were climbing into a truck heading off to something more interesting. A lower time pilot he contended would be enthusiastic for the flight, conferring with the client and preparing the machine well beforehand. During the flight, passengers were reassured by this pilot’s constant attention to monitoring the helicopter. When the mission was completed, this low-time pilot, before leaving, would ensure the machine was ready for the next charter.

This manager’s perception was simple: not all high-time pilots contribute to profitability relative to their experience. Upon hearing this story, I immediately analyzed my own work habits to pilots and engineers I had worked with to see if this theory held water. In more than a few instances, I believe he was right. It’s easy to see how complacency and sometimes lethargy can creep into our work habits. Flying a helicopter in a customer-orientated charter operation takes much more effort then showing up on time.

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For those pilots on day-to-day casual charter with regular customers, published procedures are sometimes overlooked. Who among us hasn’t climbed into a machine with familiar faces ignoring company policy about a passenger safety briefing? A quick reminder of what equipment is onboard and cautions takes just a few minutes – yet it’s an often overlooked but necessary procedure. It’s also important to note that when investigating an incident or accident, the Transportation Safety Board will review a pilot’s pre-flight procedures and ask passengers if a safety briefing was given. That omission may have had no bearing on the incident, but it will be noted as your indifference to professionalism.

Management should also brief pilots on long-term contracts located away from home base until they fully understand what the job entails. After this is accomplished, only then should they be expected to participate in their client’s daily discussions involving objectives, weather outlooks and safety. Management also has a responsibility to voice concerns or commend individuals when safe practices are followed. I do know that customers prefer flying with a pilot who displays an interest in their operation, not just the solitary mechanics of flying the helicopter.

In previous columns, I have expounded upon how important customer liaison is in helicopter operations. One recent example I heard involved a pilot and engineer pitching in to help set up a mobile camp. Later that evening, the party chief commended them both, saying they were the best crew he had ever had. Why was this noteworthy? The machine had yet to fly. On a tour, if you find spending time lounging at the motel or a camp is much more appealing than ensuring the contract requirements are fully met, than perhaps an assessment of career choices should be considered.

Years ago, I remember reading an interesting article about cockpit complacency. The author suggested that inattention on longer flights could be minimized if the pilot provided a focal point in plain view that would remind him or her to concentrate on the task at hand. The theory went that by affixing a small yellow triangle or some other mnemonic device on the instrument panel, when observed, would remind them why they put it there and direct his or her attention back to flying. In practice, I found that if my attention was drawn to the device, chances are I was already into an instrument scan and the reminder was redundant. The article reminded me of the importance of avoiding cockpit complacency and the fact being aware of the problem will enable you to deal with it more effectively.

Spring training is just around the corner and with it comes a myriad exams and flight tests. The effort we extend relating to all facets of helicopter operation will be assessed and graded. We should all be reminded that just because you passed the “Pilot Proficiency Check” doesn’t mean the customer deserves less.


A native of Spruce Grove, Alta., Michael Bellamy has been flying fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in a variety of capacities since 1971, and is an accomplished author of several books, including Crosswinds.


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