Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Of Sound Mind, Body

The topic of foreign workers in the helicopter industry was discussed at coffee time during a weather day not so long ago.


October 27, 2014
By Michael Bellamy

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The topic of foreign workers in the helicopter industry was discussed at coffee time during a weather day not so long ago. Although the assemblage was modest, both engineers and pilots were present and all held much the same conviction. If you are competent and have good work ethics, then you shouldn’t be worried about losing your job to a temporary foreign pilot or engineer.

This discourse encouraged speculation as to what defined good work ethics as it pertained to flying or maintaining a helicopter in a charter operation. Competency at the controls is of course a primary concern, but that can be negated by personal idiosyncrasies if the pilot or engineer is not suited or has differing expectations.

There are some pilots who look on any northern tour as a sentence necessary for a comfortable income and are already requesting days off on the way to the job site. This lack of commitment is readily identified by the chief pilot and, unfortunately, by the customer as well. If isolation and self reliance are not your cup of tea, then working in mine exploration type camps may not be for you. Our industry, however, has become so diverse, with time a satisfying niche can usually be found, but only if your past reputation of discontent has not preceded you.

We have all heard of a client who has a favourite crew and exerts pressure on the company to get them back. That’s not to say the relieving crew were unsatisfactory, just that a camaraderie was established early in the job and the manager wanted to maintain it. Good customer relations have long been recognized as an absolute necessity for the charter companies success and the crew that can establish that rapport will be recognized, and in time, throughout the industry. Want a challenge? Try following such a pilot when he/she is rotated home for days off. An experienced pilot will be comfortable with that circumstance, but what about the newer pilot? It’s more than a little intimidating.

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Sometimes, however, we can try to please just a little too hard, like over stressing the machine, in which case the engineer is going to have a heart-to-heart chat with you

How about flying when we should be on the ground recovering from sickness? Helicopter pilots must be some of the healthiest people in the work force. When was the last time you heard of a pilot or engineer on tour at an isolated post or on fires call in sick for the day? We seem to be able to make adjustments in our flying to compensate for colds and the myriad of minor ailments that would send an office worker home for a week. Customers are usually very obliging and will acknowledge the pilots assessment on whether or not he or she is good to go.

Pressure is often self-induced, however, when the pilot, being aware of a tight timetable, wants to press on regardless. Several years ago, a pilot was killed long lining. He had been fighting a cold with over-the-counter medications. The drugs didn’t cause the accident, but for those of us who have persevered, fighting off the symptoms with antihistamines and aspirin, we have learned to be very cautious with their use. The simple distraction of a toothache can have far more implications than we think, robbing us of sleep and re-directing attention as any of us who have been in that situation can confirm.

Newer pilots are understandably more prone, wanting to prove themselves, hoping that a good review makes it back to the chief pilot. I know of several instances where incidents or accidents happened that were the direct result of the pilot compromising better judgement or ignoring an ailment, hoping for just such an account. Unfor-
tunately, in those instances, the exact opposite happened and early in a career, such a blemish will be very hard to overcome.

For most pilots and engineers that I have worked with, the predominantly shared attribute is a love for the task. They gain immense personal satisfaction from doing a job well. That competence should not only include the helicopter but also the machine that is sitting behind the controls.


A native of Spruce Grove, Alta., Michael Bellamy has been flying fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in a variety of capacities since 1971, and is an accomplished author of several books, including Crosswinds.


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