Operator best practices
July 17, 2019 By Fred Jones
Real-world insight into what works from visiting bases across Canada
One of the things I love most about my role at the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC) is the opportunity to visit with many operators. Our industry is full of colourful characters and I regularly meeting with them at their bases. One of the benefits from this mandate is a chance to compare the way they all carry out similar missions, using a variety of different tools.
Below are some of the ops-related items that impress me as being better practices in the field. Some of you will say, “We have been doing that for years” to the whole list. Most of these practices, however, are not as common as you might think. Naturally, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but across multiple operators, these practices seem to be some of most commonly used.
Satellite phones – Back in the day, when I started flying in the industry in the late eighties, you were lucky to have an HF radio and now satellite phones allow flight and maintenance crews to contact just about anyone at any time to resolve maintenance or ops-related issues. Most companies have portable Pelican case-based units, and others have units integrated with the aircraft – some have both.
A duty officer – Experienced employees who are available 24/7 by phone to assist deployed crews with everything from the location and status of caches, to routing advice for new pilots or unfamiliar areas, to the advance booking of hotel rooms and airline bookings and taxi cabs.
Standardized tool kits – Kits that hopefully stay with the aircraft allow pilots to perform elementary maintenance tasks without having to rely on their own (sometimes questionable or non-existent ) collection of tools and lockwire. We know a set of onboard tools, and a sat phone can make the difference between being grounded by a chip light, and being on your way
Tasking sheets – These include basic information about the job like customer contact information, GPS coordinates, Ops Gear required, brief job description, duration, accommodation and more.
Fuel cache locations – An up-to-date listing of fuel cache locations (naturally, contents may vary) and procedures.
Satellite tracking – The provincial fire agencies have seen to it that virtually all our aircraft now incorporate this technology, but it has revolutionized the standard of Flight Following in our industry. Whether the aircraft has stopped owing to an inflight emergency, or simply as result of the need for a bio-break, this technology – when combined with satellite phones or satellite texting technology and automated alerting services – has virtually eliminated the uncertainty around delayed or overdue aircraft. Often times it will allow nearby company aircraft to respond on-site in a timely manner;
A Wobble-Pump backup – Paranoid, you say – maybe – but that electric pump is a pretty significant single-point-failure item. I have never seen a wobble pump failure.
Standardized GPS – The cost of commonly used, older (but perfectly serviceable) GPS units has plummeted in recent years in favour of a GPS-type that is standardized across the fleet. Many operators have moved to iPads and Foreflight or Foreflight-like Apps. Some operators are experimenting with real-time telemetry of engine parameters and electronic log books based on GPS data.
Extendable bar – An extendable bar is now commonly on hand for righting fuel drums, without slipping a disk.
Pre-packed spares – Aircraft-specific covers and plugs and snow scoops (suitable-to-season); oil, hydraulic fluid, grease gun; aircraft soap, window cleaner, rags, Start-Pac for extended deployed or cold-weather operations, fuel sample container, and more.
Company-issued firearms (to FAC Holders, under prescribed operational circumstance) – There are those of us who have been chased by a polar bear and those who haven’t been chased by a polar bear, yet.
More ops-related items I seen as better practices in the field, include: An annual and documented inspection cycle for sling gear; John’s Ambulance training (First Aid, CPR, AED); FAC course training; a searchable online reference site for company ops memos; online company documentation; crew position reports (often paper-based); company email addresses; online reporting for Flight & Duty Time; and flight tickets.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive but to provide examples of operational procedures, equipment, and training that are commonly in use. Newer technology is becoming widely available, but it is most often found in newer generation aircraft, such as Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring and Lightweight Flight Data Recorders.