Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Meeting in the Name of Safety

March 5, 2014  By Paul Dixon

It’s a milestone year in 2014 for Canadian-based operator CHC as it’s celebrating the 10th anniversary of its CHC Safety & Quality Summit.

It’s a milestone year in 2014 for Canadian-based operator CHC as it’s celebrating the 10th anniversary of its CHC Safety & Quality Summit. Conceived as a one-off in-house training session, the Summit has grown by popular demand across the industry to become the premier rotary-wing safety event in the world.

CHC is the largest helicopter operator  
CHC is the largest helicopter operator in the world, employing 250 helicopters to carry more than one million passengers a year. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


CHC prides itself on being not just the largest commercial helicopter operator in the world, employing 250 helicopters to carry more than one million passengers a year, more than 87,000 flight hours, but by being the industry leader as it operates in more than 30 countries on every continent. The company provides 24/7/365 service in some of the most hostile environments imaginable.

In his opening remarks at last year’s Summit, CHC president and CEO William Amelio spoke of his company’s enviable safety record, one-eighth the number of accidents compared to all offshore operations and one-13th the number of accidents when compared to all rotary operations. “I’m proud, but I’m not satisfied,” he said because of the realization that perception of helicopter safety is based on the performance of the entire helicopter industry and not just CHC. That is why it is so important that the entire industry is able to come together and work collaboratively, because safety is not proprietary. It’s also why Amelio isn’t shy about sharing the stage with the CEOs of his fiercest business competitors. Operators, OEMs, insurance companies – everybody comes together at the Summit and they all sing off the same page.

CHC continues  
CHC continues to up the ante in the safety realm.
(Photo courtesy of CHC)


The Summit had its beginning when Greg Wyght was given the job of taking CHC’s various operating divisions around the world and building one common safety standard, a common vision of what safety and quality meant across the entire organization – which literally meant around the world. It was a real challenge that meant working with operating units in different countries that had different cultures (in more ways than one!), different languages and differing concepts of safety and quality. That meant bridging the culture gap(s), identifying weaknesses within the company and then looking for the best training in order to develop a data driven risk management approach. This search led to Peter Gardiner at the Southern California Safety Institute. The first session had such a profound impact that word spread quickly across the industry and Wyght started getting calls from people outside CHC asking when the next one would be and could they please come.

Attendance has grown steadily every year, from the 35 people in the first year to almost 800 last year, getting close to absolute capacity at Vancouver’s the Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina. Wyght shepherded the Summit through its first eight years of existence, before taking a promotion to become vice-president of systems operations, overseeing CHC’s global operations centre in Dallas, Tex. Duncan Trapp, who succeeds Wyght as vice president of safety & quality, also assumed the mantle of organizer for the Summit.

Planning for the Summit is a year-round enterprise, done by a small group of CHC employees in addition to their “regular” jobs. It comes as a surprise to many that CHC does not hire an event organizer, but is able to rely on people working off the corner of their desks. It speaks volumes to the issue of the corporate culture at CHC, or as Liam Fitzgerald says as a member of that small team, “It’s something we all like working on and it’s important.”

Planning for next year doesn’t start the day after this year’s conference ends: it’s incorporated right into the conference. Delegates are asked to fill out feedback forms for each presentation and the forms are used to rate the presenters and the subject matter. Those who failed to connect with their audience won’t be invited back, while on the other end of the spectrum there is a core group of presenters that come back year after year and consistently draw SRO crowds. The speakers program runs up to eight concurrent sessions, with the more popular sessions repeating, with the intention of offering something for everyone in every time slot.

When it comes to setting a theme for the conference and filling out the roster of speakers, the team takes CEO Amelio’s statement about working for the industry and not just for the company to heart. “When it comes to safety,” Fitzgerald says, “it’s one area where we can definitely say there can be no competitive advantage or pursuit of a competitive advantage. It’s about creating safety for the entire industry and a safety record for the entire industry. When we’re looking at the Summit, our team is very involved with what is going on, not just at CHC but across the industry. It’s definitely based on what is going on across the industry, not just what is going on in the company. We like to think that what’s happening in the company can be representative of what is happening in the industry, but it’s trying to find a balance there.”

 CHC president and CEO William Amelio  
CHC president and CEO William Amelio isn’t shy about sharing the stage with the CEOs of his fiercest business competitors.
(Photo by Paul Dixon)


Industry stalwarts such as Scott Shappell, Doug Weigmann, Tony Kern and Graham Braithwaite keep coming back to the Summit as marquee speakers. They are all world leaders in academia, with the rare ability to transform accumulated knowledge into operational practice. What they do best is to highlight the importance of human factors in every facet of safety and quality management, from design through implementation. Dr. Shappell and Dr. Weigmann are lynchpins of the Summit, from the three-day workshop, “Human Factors Analysis Classification System” that precedes the Summit to individual presentations in the concurrent sessions.

Disciples of Peter Gardiner, Shappell and Weigmann sponsor a student bursary program that enables a student enrolled in post-secondary aviation studies to attend the conference and pre-conference course. The award includes airfare and accommodation and this year a second bursary will be awarded due to the generosity of the host hotel, the Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina, allowing a second student to attend.

The keynote speakers at the gala dinner have been human embodiments of the conference themes, always with the emphasis on the human side of the equation. In 2010, Capt. Gene Cernan, U.S. navy (ret.), astronaut widely known as “the last man on the moon,” talked about his astronaut experience and especially the importance of fully understanding the risks involved with any task before you can progress.

Passion for what you are doing and a desire for success are essential. In 2011, Cmdr. Fred Baldwin, U.S. navy (ret.), one of an elite group of carrier pilots with more than 1,000 landings (traps), talked about the challenges of directing flight deck operations on an aircraft carrier, one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world, where the workforce was renewed every year, mainly with new recruits straight out of boot camp.

The next year, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger recounted his foray into the Hudson River; a man who had devoted his flying career to being an advocate for safety, saying that he had hoped to be remembered for a lifetime of work and now he was bound to be known for what happened in five minutes out of a career that spanned more than 30 years.

bell at the New York Stock Exchange  
On Jan. 21, CHC directors and senior management rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The moment was celebrated outside with a brightly painted S-76 parked in front of 11 Wall Street.
(Photo courtesy of CHC)


Last year saw a departure from the norm when the keynote, Simon Sinek, was summoned from outside the aviation world. Fitzgerald says that was a deliberate choice, “a bit of a change, to look at management style and why things happen.” Sinek appears at conferences and forums around the world with his presentations on subjects such as “Start With Why” and “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Fitzgerald says feedback on Sinek’s speech was excellent.

“I thought it was really positive because his whole idea of understanding why we do things, why we operate the way we do and what our purpose is was fantastic,” he says. “That fits in with CHC’s purpose,
to bring everyone home safely. So, we looked at that, spread it out across the industry and looked at why we fly these helicopters.”

This year started with another significant moment in the lifespan of CHC – a lifespan that has taken a long and winding road over the past 60-plus years to its position as the world’s largest commercial  helicopter operator.

On January 21, CEO Amelio, surrounded by CHC directors and senior management, rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in honour of CHC’s initial public offering. Outside, under the grey skies and blowing snow of a cold winter’s day, normally blasé New Yorkers stopped to ponder the brightly painted S-76 parked in front of 11 Wall St.

CHC got to be the biggest by being an innovative, pioneering organization. Having the desire and ability to create programs and provide training across the entire industry is what separates leaders from also-rans. It’s also what enables CHC to go further, do more and come home safely – by demanding the best, all day, every day.

In Praise of the Rocket Man

Rocket Man  

Chris Hadfield was born with the love of flying in his DNA. We hear about how he grew up on a farm in southern Ontario, but we rarely hear that his father was a captain for Air Canada and his brothers are both commercial pilots. He was already used to looking up at the skies when he went outside into the night air on July 29, 1969 and stared up at the moon. Just shy of his 10th birthday, he had found the purpose to his life. He was going to be an astronaut. Not in the way that most boys that age want to be a firefighter one week and something else a week later. He was going to be an astronaut and that was all there was to it. He excelled in high school, followed by Royal Military College. Top pilot in his basic flight training, he was tops in his basic jet training before moving on to CF-5s and CF-18s. As an operational CF-18 pilot he was the first CF pilot to intercept a Soviet Tu-95 “Bear.” There are a lot of firsts.

There was no Canadian astronaut program at the time Chris graduated from RMC, though he was still committed to going into space. He thought about moving to the United States, but ultimately decided that if he was going to be an astronaut then he was going to be a Canadian astronaut. If you look at his career progression there are some sharp turns, often unexpected. It can be said that things happen for a reason or that you make your own breaks. At the times a door shut on him, another one opened. After attending the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School (top of his class) he then served as an exchange officer at the U.S. Navy Strike Test Directorate at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, where he was U.S. Navy Test Pilot Of The Year in 1991.

In 1992 Hadfield was selected as one of four Canadian astronauts from more than 5,300 applicants. The rest is history as the saying goes. There were two missions on the space shuttle and in 2012-13, 146 days aboard the International Space Station. In 2009, we had a chance to talk with Chris at the Abbotsford Air Show, where he was flying the F-86 Hawk One as part of the Centennial of Flight. At the time, he had just finished a year as understudy to the team leader on a 2008-09 mission to the ISS. Talking with him then was like talking to your next door neighbour. There’s no doubt that he is as proficient as any other pilot at the airshow, but there’s none of that “top gun” attitude that comes along with a few too many of the airshow types. It was fascinating to talk with someone who still had all the enthusiasm of that nine-year-old who had looked up at the night sky 40 years previously and to know that he was even more stoked about space now than he was then. That said, what brought out the smile was talking about the thrill of flying the F-86. Absolute perfection as an airplane, “like someone had given him a pair of wings.” It was like Goldilocks critiquing the three bowls of porridge in describing the other two aircraft in the Heritage Flight. The CF-18 is a wonderful aircraft, but there’s so much power and with the CT-114 Tutor, you’re always trying to catch up to the other two, but the F-86 is “perfect.”

Now retired from the Canadian Space Agency, Chris Hadfield is anything but “retired” in any sense of the world. He is a college professor (at the University of Waterloo), author (#1 on the bestseller list), CBC commentator, public speaker and much, much more.


Stories continue below

Print this page