Safety & Training
In Conversation with Fred Jones
March 23, 2009 ByDrew McCarthy
" I am doing something meaningful in an industry I have a passion for. I can make a difference here."
| Fred Jones , HAC president and CEO|
Q. What do you see as the main goal of the HAC? How well is it doing in achieving this goal?
A. HAC has a number of goals, but right now there is a heightened sensitivity for our goals that relate to safety and the viability of the Canadian helicopter industry. Safety is always at the top of our priority list as an industry, particularly as we move in to an uncertain economic climate. Our recent focus has been on helping our members implement SMS and to promote the development of industry ‘Best Practices’, both of which I believe will go a long way to enhancing the safety of Canadian helicopter operations. Naturally we also need to help our members weather the coming economic storm. We need to help them to operate more efficiently and to help reduce their costs.
Q. What tools and resources does the HAC need to acquire in order to move forward?
A. There is no substitute for an engaged membership. We currently have about 140 operator-members, and 100 Associate members that provide our operator-members with goods and services. Our most valuable assets are members that are prepared to roll up their sleeves and work to improve the circumstances in our industry. As you well know, there is no shortage of opinions in our industry, but my short-term goals are to harness that energy through our committee structure, and to facilitate the valuable work that our committee members do. Our committee structure is the backbone of the association, and particularly in challenging economic times I need to remind our members of the importance of populating our committees with expertise from inside their companies. For my part, I need to facilitate committee deliberations, and to help them advance their recommendations and their development of best industry practices.
Q. In these difficult economic times, what do you see as the most important issues facing the Canadian helicopter industry and how can the HAC best help?
A. Right now near-term goals are pretty modest, since all indications are that the next year or two could be challenging. Most operators are telling me that they would like to ‘weather the economic storm’, but I think that we can emerge from this recession as a stronger industry. HAC naturally needs to help its members survive the recession – but advancing our safety objectives during this period is a particularly exciting opportunity. High standards of safety are always positively related to economic success. HAC can help its members operate more efficiently and more safely in the coming few years. We are examining opportunities for further delegated authority, where that will allow our members to operate more safely and efficiently, and HAC is working to implement web-based technology that will facilitate the flow of safety information between members and through the association.
Q. How can individual HAC members help improve their association?
A. Individual members can improve their association by engaging in a debate of the issues confronting our industry at a committee level. Our committee structure has always been inclusive of all our members – operators, associates and individuals, and coming changes to the way that our committees operate will make that dialogue more inclusive, transparent and productive.
Q. What is the current role of the HAC committees and how effective are they in achieving the goals of the association?
A. HAC committees are the backbone of the association – but they are in need of some support from their association. HAC is preparing to implement a new web-based tool to facilitate dialogue at a committee level. Conceptually, our members and their employees will self-select their areas of interest by-committee, and each time a new item of interest (i.e., minutes, agenda, question, issue, meeting date) is posted to that committee area, each interested member will receive an e-mail ‘tickler’ with a link to the full item in a username and password protected area of the HAC site. The HAC public website is in the process of being overhauled, and will serve as the public face of the association where the good work of our committees can be promoted to the general public.
Video clip – Fred Jones talks about the new web-based tool for HAC’s committees. Go to http://www.helicoptersmagazine.com/
Q. In early 2007, the HAC board of directors approved the release of a report on the feasibility of helicopter-AOC industry self-management.What is the current status of that report and where do you see the HAC moving on this issue in the future?
A. There is some disagreement among our members about the future of industry self-management as articulated in the report. My view is that the association should seek out new opportunities for delegation of authority – but one step at a time. The foundation for any new delegation of authority in my view is ‘Can our industry operate more safety and efficiently under the new delegation, and is the industry prepared to accept the responsibility that comes with it?’ HAC needs to explore with its members fertile new areas for delegated authority that satisfy these requirements. If the industry embraces them, the Best Practices under development will naturally present new opportunities for HAC and for industry. As Transport Canada moves to monitor our SMSs, rather than the minutiae of our operations, industry members will be uniquely qualified to articulate the best and safest ways of providing these services. In my view, industry will establish a new due diligence standard, or simply put: ‘How would a reasonable, prudent, safety-conscious operator go about providing this service?’ Ultimately it will be for our members to decide – any association is only what its members want it to be.
Q. In the U.S., the public image of helicopters regarding noise and safety needs to be addressed. Do we have the same image problem here in Canada and, if so, what can be done to improve it?
A. We can learn a lot from the American experience, although admittedly the regulatory environment is different. Our differences have been highlighted by some of the evidence heard by the NTSB on the HEMS issue for example. Naturally we have some issues to address too. We had a difficult safety-year last year, which needs to be addressed going forward. We also have some noise issues in particular niche operations, but largely our industry is doing the right thing – which is working with the community to address those issues using traditional tools including a dialogue with the community relating to profile, routing, schedule and altitudes for example. Our challenge as an industry will be to explore new business opportunities for the use of helicopters particularly in urban settings and to work productively with the community to find a workable compromise – I mean, it’s the Canadian way, right?
Q. The situation with low-time Canadian pilots not being able to secure employment is a long-standing issue. Can the HAC play a role in improving this situation?
A. This season is likely to be particularly challenging for new-hires, but there will be new opportunities for those new pilots who ‘can’t get experience until they get experience’ as well. We need to make opportunities to bring new pilots through the system, since we have been experiencing a chronic shortage for years, which will only be aggravated when we emerge from the recession if these new pilots continue to be frustrated. We could find our industry constrained by a shortage of labour in this sector and in the maintenance sector if this issue is not managed. Our committees are exploring a competency-based Best Practice for pilots engaged in fire fighting, rather than the more traditional hours-based hiring criteria. Our customers recognize the dilemma too. We have also been discussing a mentoring system, which would help to bridge the void between low-time and high-time pilots. This issue has been such a chronic source of frustration that I have not ruled out the prospect of a sector-study for helicopter flight crews.
Q. As an association, what do you see as the most important medium- to long-term goals of the association?
A. The most important medium- to long-term goals in my view are to facilitate the flow of safety information between operators, to find-our-depth in our relationship with Transport Canada on SMS, and for our industry to determine how much of an appetite for Regulatory Stewardship we really have. We will never get there if we don’t know where we are going, and I have never been really comfortable filing an ‘EDA’ – Estimated Destination of Arrival.
Q. How do you like the job?
A. I get asked that question a lot. It has been an intense experience, filled with challenges but my Board and the members of HAC have been very supportive – I couldn’t possibly expect more. I am doing something meaningful in an industry I have a passion for. I can make a difference here. Does it get any better?
When Old Friends Turn Bad
By Fred Jones, president & CEO, HAC
When I was invited by Helicopters magazine to interview for the Fall ’08 edition, I was asked to produce a few photographs for the piece. Like many pilots, I have always carried a camera in the machine, but virtually all the photographs are of other pilots or helicopters or pretty geologists – I have hundreds – they occupy boxes and CDs that litter my basement. I scoured them all in search of a few that included myself and a helicopter – I found three. The one that found its way into the magazine was an unfortunate choice.
I wasn’t even aware that the digital version of the magazine had been released and I started receiving emails from friends who recognized the photo and the events surrounding it. I have been under some pressure since then to come-clean.
My first job as a pilot in the industry was for Dick Huisson of Huisson Aviation out of Timmins, Ont. – Dick is a real gentleman and an icon in the business. I started working for him in the summer of ’87 and one of my first contracts was flying a crew of four geologists out of Kapuskasing in a Jet Ranger. On one of the first days of the contract the crew wanted to look at a steep rock face along the Abitibi River about 100 nm northeast of Kap.
We got up early on a beautiful cloudless day in northern Ontario and headed for the airport where the machine was waiting. We departed uneventfully and when we arrived at the rock face it became clear that there was very little room to land on the shore line in close proximity to the cliff since the trees were growing right up to the edge of the water. It was going to mean a considerable mosquito-infested walk from the nearest clearing to the rock face.
After a couple of passes, I noticed that the water right at the foot of the cliff was quite shallow. It looked as if it was only an inch or two deep – barely enough to cover the skids. I suggested to the crew that they could walk from the clearing or – if they didn’t mind getting their tootsies wet, I could land at the base of the cliff. There was an even chance that they might be able to find a rock or two to step on and avoid getting wet at all. It didn’t take them long to decide that the cliff face was the preferred option.
I landed, shut down, and tied down. They asked me if I wanted to accompany them on the climb to the top of the ridge, or if I wanted to stay with the machine. I told them I had a telescoping fishing rod in the hat rack, and wanted to try my luck in the Abitibi. They happily left to go about their business while I prepared myself to go about the business of fishing. It was such a glorious day, I decided to set up the self-timer and take the “Sky King” photo that appeared in the Fall ’08 edition, and above.
Fishing rod in hand, I started walking on the rocks out into the river. It wasn’t long before I slipped a couple of times and decided that to avoid getting my boots soaked, I should take them off and put them on a large boulder. In my bare feet and flight suit I continued out into the river. I tried rolling up my flight suit legs to avoid getting them wet too, but they kept unrolling. I thought, “Who is going to see me out here anyway?” so I peeled off my flight suit, and put it on another big rock. Wearing only my underwear, I continued to walk out into the river about 50 metres from shore where I started fishing in about 12 inches of water – casting out to the deeper water in the centre of the river where the pike were biting steadily. I had been there for about an hour, and I had managed to catch-and-release about a dozen large fish, when it started to dawn on me that the water that 60 minutes earlier had been well below my knees was now above my knees and moving considerably faster than I had remembered it. Now, I didn’t appreciate this at the time, but the sluice gates had been opened on the Otter Rapids dam about 10 miles upstream. What I did appreciate was the importance of getting back to the helicopter and departing without delay.
Naturally, all of the rocks that I had used as stepping-stones to get out to my fishing spot were now under fast-moving water, and I frequently stumbled and fell as my feet became jammed between rocks under the black rapids. I went to grab my flight suit…it had been washed off the rock and down the river…and my boots I soon realized had suffered a similar fate. I yelled to get the geologists off the cliff and back down to the machine. I was now becoming concerned that if the water got too much higher I was likely to dip the tail rotor as the Jet Ranger pitched nose-up during the lift-off. My helicopter, which had been comfortably resting in about two inches of water, was now in about 12 inches of water – rising at an alarming rate.
Fortunately, by the time I had the blades untied one of the geologists had made it back and joined me in the front of the helicopter, which mitigated the potential risk that a tail rotor strike would occur. We managed to lift off from the river and land in the clearing some distance from the cliff, and the rest of the crew joined us when the job was done. My embarrassing state did not escape their notice. Unfortunately I had to fly back to Kapuskasing wearing only my underwear and a blue Canadian Tire-type tarp around my waist. Sadly, as I fuelled the aircraft in Kapuskasing, one of the geologists remembered she had a camera too…I am hoping those photos will resurface sometime after my flight suit and boots … .