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HAC: Taking Care of Business

Since being established in 1994, the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC) has served as the voice of Canada’s private helicopter operators from its offices in downtown Ottawa.


James Careless

Since being established in 1994, the Helicopter Association of Canada
(HAC) has served as the voice of Canada’s private helicopter operators
from its offices in downtown Ottawa.

Today,
HAC has 143 operator members, 90 associate members, and 15 corporate
sponsors. “Our operator membership accounts for about 70 per cent of
Canadian operators overall, which is quite an achievement,” says Brian
Jenner, HAC’s president and CEO. “I guess we must be doing something
right.”

A BUSY AGENDA

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One thing is certain: When it comes
to communicating with government about the helicopter industry, HAC is
doing a lot of things right in Ottawa.

A recent case in point:
The association is presenting its position on behalf of Canada’s
helicopter operators with Transport Canada on the MD369 helicopter
waiver. The reason: “For the past four to five years, in order to watch
out for cracks, the MD369 has been subject to a blade inspection every
200 torque events or 35 hours,” says Jenner. “Well, 200 torque events
might only take 6-7 hours, which is why Transport Canada’s original
decision to allow pilots to make these inspections made sense. But now
the government wants these inspections to be done by AMEs – which is
highly problematic. There is a shortage of AMEs, which means that TCCA
new policy on blade inspections will push about 100 Canadian MD369s out
of the market.”

REGULATIONS IN CONTEXT

“Increasingly,
Transport Canada sends a Notice of Suspension along with a finding, and
if you haven’t done what they require by the end of 30 days, the
suspension takes effect whether the finding is well founded or not”
says Jenner, “This is an odd way of doing business, especially when you
consider that we estimate such complaints to be unfounded at least 25
per cent of the time.” Jenner says there is nothing unusual about
TCCA’s error rate given the complexity of the regulatory system: “the
Auditor General recently investigated the accuracy of advice provided
by Revenue Canada employees and found a 37% error rate. Why would TCCA
be any different?”

As part of a larger SMS agenda, Transport
Canada is considering an “industry self-management” model where HAC
could be called upon to set standards for commercial helicopter
operators, issue operating certificates, and monitor operator
compliance. “Under self-management, Transport Canada would continue to
write the rules, but HAC would be responsible for translating them into
realistic standards and enforcing these standards,” says Jenner.

OPERATOR SAFETY MANAGEMENT

The
idea of the Canadian helicopter industry managing itself on safety
issues has raised concern in some quarters. Critics believe that some
operators would be tempted to skimp on safety. However, Jenner is quick
to defend self-management. Not only could the HAC do as good a job as
current government oversight, he says, but self-management actually has
the potential to do a better and more efficient job.

“To compete
fairly, everybody has to be playing on a level field,” he tells
HELICOPTERS magazine. “When industry is policing itself no one is going
to let their competitor get away with anything. If an operator tries to
get an edge by cutting corners you can be sure that his competitors
will complain loud and fast.”

In contrast, the existing
government oversight system is less sensitive to industry’s demand to
level the competitive playing field through strenuous regulatory
compliance, Jenner says. “Transport Canada has a lot of influences
acting upon it and many issues with higher priority than helicopter
operations. Having industry do the policing could reinforce safety
oversight.”

As for the notion that industry will skimp on
safety? Brian Jenner dismisses it out of hand. “Safety comes from
having aircraft that are well-maintained and personnel that are
well-trained,” he says. Simply put, “Aircraft that are well maintained
are ready to fly when customers want them to. Aircraft that are not
well maintained, are not. Meanwhile, personnel who are not well trained
have a tendency not to get the job done to the satisfaction of
customers. Those who are well trained keep customers happy, and
motivate them to come back again.”

“The intuitive suspicion that
there’s a conflict between the profit motive and safety management is
erroneous,” Jenner concludes. “Safety and commercial success are
inextricably linked.”

THE COST OF SELF-MANAGEMENT

Everything
comes with a price tag attached, and self-management is no exception.
If the HAC takes on the role of regulatory oversight, says Jenner, it
will have to add staff.

“I expect that we would have to add
three to four new employees to handle the process,” he explains. “I’m
basing this number on the Canadian Business Aviation Association’s
experience in self-managing its sector. They took this responsibility
over from Transport Canada about three years ago, and it has worked
very well for them.”

In addition to adding staff, HAC would also
have to accredit private sector auditors. They would then visit
helicopter operators on a regular basis, to ensure that HAC standards
were being met. Since the auditors would not be HAC employees there
would be no tendency on the part of the Association to defend their
findings come what may. Disagreements over audit findings would
therefore be resolved in a three-way partnership between the operator,
the Association and the auditors. Jenner believes this approach will
prove to be more productive and less expensive than the current regime,
since making amendments to an operating certificate already cost
operators a lot of money.

WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON?

At press
time, the HAC board had authorized publication of the Preliminary
Report on HAC Industry Self-management Feasibility for the purposes of
industry consultation. Should it get the green light from the
membership at this year’s convention, the next move will belong to
Transport Canada. Then, says Jenner, “It will be up to the Minister
whether to give the helicopter sector the same opportunity already
being successfully exercised by the business aviation community.”


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