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It has always struck me as odd that we frequently see the same accidents year-over-year. Admittedly, helicopter operations have certain common vulnerabilities, blade strikes, roll-over, lost loads, unweighted lines, VFR into IMC, etc., but the underlying issues are virtually all human factors-related. These include training, SOPs, Best Practices, or the lack thereof.


March 12, 2010
By Fred Jones

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It has always struck me as odd that we frequently see the same accidents year-over-year. Admittedly, helicopter operations have certain common vulnerabilities, blade strikes, roll-over, lost loads, unweighted lines, VFR into IMC, etc., but the underlying issues are virtually all human factors-related. These include training, SOPs, Best Practices, or the lack thereof.

We do pretty well in Canada, and I think we can hold our heads up when it comes to our helicopter safety record. Since 2006 our accident rate has declined steadily from 8.8 accidents per 100,000 hours to 5.7 accidents per 100,000 hours in 2008. Now admittedly that is still 40 accidents per year too many, but we’re working on that.

It also strikes me as odd that in an industry moving towards safety management systems (SMS) we are still so guarded where information-sharing is concerned – even between similar types of helicopter operations. SMS is focusing on sharing of information inside an operation – identifying incipient safety problems before they become accidents or incidents. Voluntary and non-punitive reporting systems, risk assessments, risk mitigation – I would have to say that we are getting better at sharing information on a micro-level. Yet I would add that we still need more work when it comes to sharing information. What is it that makes your operation less vulnerable to a roll-over accident than the operator across the ramp? How would you possibly know if you are more or less vulnerable to any given accident or incident scenario?  Part of the answer lies in the sharing of information with others in the industry, and particularly with those in similar types of operations. 

HAC’s committees are actively engaged in the development of Industry Best Practices.  Utility Flight Operations, Pilot Competencies for Helicopter Wildfire Operations, Oil & Gas Operations, Class D External Loads (see www.h-a-c.ca “Guidelines & Best Practices”) – all of these issues are actively under discussion by HAC’s Committees. Lawyers call it Due Diligence, or “What a prudent and reasonable operator would do under similar circumstances.”

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HAC has also established a “Committees Site”, available to HAC’s members and invited guests aimed at facilitating the sharing of information among members of all types. Maintenance, MRO personnel suppliers, operators, long-line manufacturers, OEMs; everyone has access to the site to facilitate the flow of information between industry stakeholders.  In addition to providing a forum for HAC’s Committees to share information, currently the site is hosting the ICAO’s HEMS Sub-Group, and a joint Transport Canada-Industry NVIS (night vision imaging systems) Working Group. Many Transport Canada inspectors are participating, as well as the FAA, and a variety of foreign regulators. 

In the years ahead, I believe that we will see an evolving due diligence standard in our industry that will render the Canadian Aviation Regulations largely irrelevant, except for use by Transport Canada as a tool to whack the most irresponsible operators. The guiding principles for day-to-day helicopter operations will be developed by the industry, for the industry, and in consultation with our customers, who have at least as much skin in the safety game as we do.

Where is all this headed? I see an aging demographic of Transport Canada inspectors, and a new breed of inspector that will audit your “systems” rather than the minutia of your operation. I see customers who are insisting upon higher safety standards from their contracted helicopter service providers – customers who are increasingly insisting upon third-party audits to fulfil their due diligence to protect their employees. Transport Canada going forward will become more concerned with the ability of your SMS to recognize safety hazards and your ability to proportionally mitigate your OWN risks. I see more and more responsibility falling to industry.

This is the reality of our changing business environment. You can complain about it, or you can adapt and embrace the opportunities that it will present.  As an industry, if we can demonstrate that we are able to accept that new accountability in a responsible way, I believe it holds tremendous promise for the Canadian helicopter industry in terms of our safety experience and Transport Canada’s willingness to extend delegated authority to us going forward.  Safety is just like any other investment. We are naturally looking for the highest return on our safety-dollars and money spent on information sharing between industry stakeholders holds the greatest promise.


Fred Jones is president and CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada. This year’s convention and trade show is slated for Quebec City from April 11-13, and the program includes a heavy safety focus. www.h-a-c.ca. fred.jones@h-a-c.ca


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