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Guest Column: Weathering the Storm

March 8, 2011  By Fred Jones

The American Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser once said, “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.

The American Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser once said, “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” Well, Mr. Kaiser’s words are being put to the test in the Canadian helicopter industry today. If obstacles are opportunities, then our industry’s proverbial cup runneth over . . .

It has been many years since our industry has seen such difficult times. The past 24 months have witnessed a number of industry business casualties, and we are not out of the woods yet, but there are promising signs of recovery and reasons to be optimistic. The Helicopter Association of Canada’s Convention this spring aims to capitalize on the opportunities and challenges facing the Canadian helicopter community. The companies that weather the storm will be stronger and well positioned to emerge from the current economic circumstances healthier, more robust, and resilient.

As always, advancing safety is at the top of HAC’s agenda and a number of the convention programs this year are aimed at improving the safety performance of the industry – particularly challenging in the current economic climate. We have expanded our offering of safety-related sessions and courses to include Risk Management, an FDM Workshop, a Mountain Flying Ground School, Pilot Competencies for Helicopter Wildfire Operations, SMS for Small Operators, as well as our staple courses, including Wires, and Certified Quality Systems Auditor courses. Even our luncheon speaker, author Randy Mains, sponsored by Helicopters magazine, will be theming his talk “Swinging for the Fences in Tough Economic Times.”

For the first time since Transport Canada folded the tent on its Instructor Refresher Courses, HAC is offering a Helicopter Instructor Refresher Course of its own. In recognition of the fact that we need to groom Canada’s youth for a place in the helicopter industry of the future, HAC this year is offering special convention discounts and sessions to engage with the pilots and engineers of tomorrow.


HAC has been working with the Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace (CCAA) (formerly the Canadian Aviation Maintenance Council (CAMC)) to help develop Occupational Standards for pilots to ensure that the helicopter pilots of tomorrow can meet employers’ expectations. The Occupational Standards will also help flight schools and colleges develop a more meaningful curriculum.

Naturally, all eight of our committees are meeting at the convention, and these gatherings are really the crucible for the issues that will define the Canadian industry in the coming year. HAC relies on the issues and recommendations that flow from its committees to establish its priorities.

No meeting of the Canadian helicopter community would be complete without an opportunity to dialogue with the regulator, and this year I will be holding an “open mike” joint session with Transport Canada’s Martin Eley, the director general, Civil Aviation. Faced with its own budgetary challenges, the department has been hard-pressed to engage with industry across a variety of issues, including SMS implementation for small operators, PINSA approaches, and low flying permits, to name only a few.

In an SMS culture, industry was supposed to have the flexibility to innovate, but getting the attention of the regulator for industry-driven initiatives is becoming increasingly more difficult. The CARAC process has been choked with a backlog of more than 600 amendments that have been processed through CARAC, but have yet to come in to law. The process, even when it is working is cumbersome and slow, but it is currently collapsing under its own regulatory weight. In short, the process is settling with power, and the terrain is looming large. In a climate where the helicopter community needs now, more than ever, to innovate in a heavily regulated environment, the regulator needs to be engaged with us in a discussion of the issues affecting our interests. It needs to make provisions for the industry to benefit, in a timely and tangible way, from its efforts to develop best practices and take some control over its own destiny.

In short, there are challenges ahead, but the Canadian helicopter community has seen difficult times before. HAC will continue to work with its members and Transport Canada to prevail, and prosper, in spite of our challenges.

Humorist Don Marquis once said, “An optimist is a guy who never had much experience.” I prefer the historian Charles A. Beard – “When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Fred Jones is president/CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC).


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