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Pilot Check: Considerations for Transport Inspectors

Do we pilots need proficiency checks? Apparently not. Transport Canada has decided to cancel the requirement for yearly proficiency checks conducted by its inspectors. Beginning January 2007 only qualified company personnel will conduct these evaluations on their fellow employees.


July 11, 2007
By Ken Armstrong

Topics

Do we pilots need proficiency checks? Apparently not. Transport Canada has decided to cancel the requirement
for yearly proficiency checks conducted by its inspectors. Beginning
January 2007 only qualified company personnel will conduct these
evaluations on their fellow employees. This sounds like great news to
many of us professional pilots who had to regularly submit to outside
audits of our knowledge and flight abilities. Helicopter company
management across Canada will likely be delighted they don’t have to
incur costs associated with this process nor will they have to go
through the scheduling hassles to obtain the services of these TC
representatives – sometimes in very remote areas.

Any
pilot who has submitted himself or herself to a PPC with Transport
Canada may remember trepidation associated with their upcoming flight
check. Still others may have despised the ground portion with the
oblique questions that were conducting safe flights. A decade ago, I
took a break from international fire suppression training to fly with a
Canadian operator. I had none of the abovementioned fears until a TC
inspector with an axe to grind grilled me for a lengthy time on
information from the VFR Supplement, AIP and remote information
sources. I was very humbled that I apparently didn’t know as much as I
thought about helicopter flying after all. Apparently, I had been
extremely lucky to have stumbled through 33 years of accident-free,
highly-paid aviation with such a huge lack of knowledge.

Nonetheless,
the unexpected nightmare continued when we approached the helicopter
for the walkaround. The inspector, who was a relatively high-time Huey
pilot, began asking me technical questions about the bird that an AME
would have been challenged to answer. I guess he was trying to impress
me with his knowledge questions were unimportant in terms of conducting
a flight from a pilot’s perspective. By the time I had completed my
pre-flight inspection, the inspector was so unfavourably impressed by
my knowledge that he suggested there was no sense in going flying if my
aviating skills were as pathetic as my knowledge. I was emotionally
decimated.

The flying portion of the check ride did in fact show
that I could fly a helicopter – very well, as a matter of fact. At one
point the inspector asked if he could take the controls and hover for a
moment as he didn’t get much flying time at Transport Canada. That
became obvious. I was prudent enough not to offer constructive
criticism to overcome his handling. Needless to say, this shaken
aviator/writer passed the check and went on to save dozens of lives
that year in a fiery inferno and win the Transport Canada Aviation
Safety Award from those happened to those lives had that TC
representative grounded me from commercial operations that year?
Incidentally, I see no reason to name that TC inspector as he has left
its employ – for whatever reason. Another TC inspector who flew with me
subsequently crashed with a another pilot on a flight test and had to
retire from flying ops. This is another reason operators resent TC
inspectors flying in their machines as it increases the accident rate
and often enough causes the helicopter company to end up having to pay
their insurance deductible.

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Suffice to say, the PPC experience
left me perplexed about TC’s goals with that program and its worth. How
can someone with time logged on 60 helicopter types, test piloting
background and over 10,000 flying hours at top industry pay and a wall
full of safety awards come close to failing a PPC over inconsequential
questions? The PPC program was established presumably to enhance safety
by allowing TC to monitor pilot procedures and skills. However, it
evolved as a political program to promote TC’s latest buzzwords and
current ‘hot topics’. In effect it was at times an attempt to ‘educate’
pilots or perhaps indoctrinate them to TC’s perspective. The industry
hated the PPC headaches and apparently TC has found no beneficial
reason to continue the program.

Now, I’d like to play devil’s
advocate. I recently flew a PPC with a TC inspector that flipped my
decade-old opinion upside down. I don’t mean we accomplished aerobatics
but rather I met an honest, modest, government representative who
accomplished the task and did so in an exemplary manner. He arrived on
time at the company office, well dressed and immediately put me at ease
talking about our industry. Once again, I didn’t get all of the verbal
questions correct during our pre-flight classroom session. But those I
missed resulted in the inspector verbally leading me to an
understanding of the principles he was seeking in the testing. This
expanded my knowledge on the helicopter type that I hadn’t worked in
many years and his guidance in the performance data section of the
flight manual enhanced my understanding and thus safety.

Similarly,
the pre-flight inspection went well and without criticism – however, I
did take the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions on the type
and obtain his opinions on several matters. He provided an opportunity
to amplify my understanding of the helicopter and I appreciated that
input because the helicopter company’s senior pilots were off on
operations. I also enjoyed his reviewing my flying procedures and while
he had no negative observations it was gratifying to have another
high-time pilot confirm my actions and to know that TC hadn’t changed
the principles of rotary-wing aerodynamics while I was on overseas
operations.

Some Other Opinions

I have spoken informally
with TC’s training expert, Jim Dow, on a number of occasions with
respect to written pilot exams. Many of us have complained about the
complexity and questions on the current exams and I frequently quip
that I likely couldn’t pass the private pilot’s exam nowadays. Although
my tongue is resting firmly in my cheek, it has become obvious to many
of us that some of TC’s training goals are not adequately preparing
candidates for real-life conditions.

As a graduate of the highly
praised School of Instruction Technique, my recollection is that exams
should be designed to test the student’s knowledge of the course
material – not to be an investigation into the prospect’s knowledge of
English, oblique questions or answers of varying ‘correctness.’ Dow has
taken these criticisms very well and accepts them at face value. He
responded by saying he would gladly change the exams to be more
representative of the knowledge needed in the real world – an area TC
doesn’t fly in (more on this below). He claimed he would welcome a
get-together with industry to provide more realistic questions and
tests. How about it, guys and girls – would you like to invest a little
time and money to improve your students’ knowledge and safety and
provide TC with some guidance?

Us and Them

While talking
about real-world flying I would like see TC inspectors freelancing
during their holidays by flying with helicopter companies or even
filling a slot as a safety officer! In the past, TC set a policy that
forbids working in the industry as the organization belives that this
would constitute a conflict of interest. For whom? The industry
would/should welcome TC inspectors flying within our ranks. Who better
to know the current ‘thinking’ behind TC policies? Who better to
incorporate the safe practices that TC preaches to operators? What
better opportunity would exist for inspectors to hone their skills,
enhance flight test skills and see current conditions in the
professional field of corporate or charter flying? In my military
times, I can recall numerous pilots who invested their holidays
commercially with summer contracts. We did not consider that a conflict
of interest. They came back refreshed with sharply enhanced flying
skills and the knowledge they gained was circulated among their peers.
Moreover, the companies benefited from well-trained pilots with
safety-oriented goals.

While some commercial aviators might not
like to see TC inspectors in our midst, they would likely be the
operators who may be leaning heavily against the regulations or flying
inappropriately. (Reckon there could be anyone like that out there?)
Besides, most inspectors would relish the opportunity to get away from
Big Brother and rejoin their industry for a brief respite, and the last
thing on their mind would be auditing the industry for TC during these
outings.

Furthermore, with respect to safety, inspectors and
taxpayers could greatly benefit from inspector participation in the
civilian helicopter industry. Real flying operations would hone the
inspectors’ skills and remind them of our challenges and the
difficulties we face. I don’t see TC in an us-and-them scenario, I
simply see them as brothers in aviation and feel we should all be
working in the same direction.


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