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Priming the Pump

March 8, 2011  By Paul Dixon

The CHC Safety & Quality Summit is quickly emerging as one of the must-attend aviation conferences of the year – and it’s doing so in a world still suffering from economic uncertainty.

The CHC Safety & Quality Summit is quickly emerging as one of the must-attend aviation conferences of the year – and it’s doing so in a world still suffering from economic uncertainty.

The CHC Safety & Quality Summit in beautiful Vancouver is rapidly developing into one of the most important events of the year. (Photo by Paul Dixon)


The event’s reputation for excellence and innovation has been achieved in seven short years through the vision, passion and dedication of one man – Greg Wyght, CHC’s vice-president, safety and quality. Wyght is fortunate to have the support and trust of corporate management, who believe in his principles and vision. The upcoming summit, to be held from March 28-30 in Vancouver, promises to build on its stellar reputation as a can’t-miss gathering based on excellent educational and networking opportunities. This year’s theme is corporate responsibility – where does it end and personal accountability begin?

With a background in air ambulance operations, Wyght came to CHC as a base manager at one of its overseas operations. His directive from the president of the company at the time was to “go in there and change the safety culture,” which he managed to do after some focus and hard work. “I put in a number of programs and they were very successful,” Wyght says. From there, he was named vice-president, safety and quality in 2004, and his assignment from the CEO was to create a common standard across the entire worldwide organization.


The challenge was taking aviation flight safety, accident prevention, quality assurance, as well as occupational health and safety, and tying it all into one safety management system (SMS). At the time, CHC had nine different entities under one corporate umbrella, with nine different systems. It was quickly determined that not everyone had the same level of training, or, as Wyght says, “was speaking the same language.” The solution was to seek out the best training, so he undertook to find it.

Greg Wyght, CHC’s vice-president, safety and quality (left), chats with Capt. Eugene “Gene” Cernan, at last year’s event. Cernan is the last man to walk on the moon. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


“One of the things I promoted was that the mission and vision of the safety quality department was to be a separate auditing department, but to also be an advisory service to management. The only way we could do that was with the best training in the world,” he says.

To create the best training model possible, Wyght talked to colleagues from around the globe, especially the oil company aviation advisors with experience in aviation safety. He also talked to major aviation educational institutes such as Cranfield, Embry-Riddle, University of Southern California, Southern California Safety Institute, looking at the curriculum as well as who took the training. After six months of research, he settled on Dr. Peter Gardiner and the Southern California Safety Institute as the best there were for occupational risk management, or as Wyght describes it, “a data-driven risk management approach.”

In 2005, the first safety summit was held in Prague, Czech Republic, as an in-house event with 35 CHC employees in attendance. The event was a success, but Wyght recalls, “the CEO just about fell over when he saw the price tag . . . one training course for three days and you spent $100,000? But he recognized the huge value of it and asked if there was any way we could make it more cost effective.”

The one thing CHC lacked as an organization or an industry was to capture best practices right across the industry from all the different operators. So, what Wyght proposed to his CEO was to make the next event a non-profit conference where it’s not just about cost recovery, but aimed at bringing in competitors, other operators in the industry CHC doesn’t compete with, customers, and regulatory authorities. “The goal was to bring in experts, learn from them, and that way we’ll sort of prime the pump,” he says. “I told him, we’ll give them everything we have from our SMS, we’ll run SMS courses and teach people what we teach our people. We’ll give them our protocols, we’ll give them everything and eventually they’ll start giving back.”

Wyght also devised a five-year plan for the conference to reach profitability. For each of the first three years, CHC would pay for the entire event, but by the fourth year, they hoped to recoup 50 per cent of their costs. By year five, the goal was to break even. “The second year, we had no marketing budget, so we just told all our competitors, told all the oil companies, and we ended up with about 80 attendees, which we were very happy with,” says Wyght.

“The following year, we were just over 150, and then the fourth year 325, so each year, we had kept doubling and it was all primarily word of mouth. In 2010, we had just under 600, about 450 external and 140 or so internal. We have just over 5,000 names of people who have stated they want to hear more.”

A New Wrinkle

When CHC was purchased by U.S. equity firm First National in 2008, Wyght was challenged on the concept of the conference by new corporate higher-ups. “They said, you’re a helicopter company, why are you running a conference?” he recalls.

Dr. Graham Braithwaite, director of Cranfield Safety and Accident Investigation Centre, is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s event. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


To alleviate their concerns and sell them on the validity of the event, Wyght met with senior management and tried to convince them that the conference was not only a benefit to CHC from a safety perspective, but also a benefit for the entire industry. It was an opportunity to educate and subsequently raise the corporate brand – in a very positive way. “I told them we can impact the safety of the industry and that will benefit us,” he says. “We will get safer pilots, safer engineers, better safety culture within the helicopter industry, lower interest rates because everyone’s accident rate drops, so there’s a number of intangible benefits we get from that.”

The outcome? “First National agreed to allow the conference to go ahead [that year] and they came to the Summit with their CEO, and a number of senior management were absolutely sold, says Wyght. “The day after the summit, I posed the question – are you satisfied, will you let us run it again? They said, absolutely.”

“So, we’ve been very fortunate. CHC commits to a certain amount they put into the Summit each year, a big part of the investment is the six-member team and the number of hours they put in, as well as priming the pump by spending a ton of money up front before we get our money back.”

Focus on Education

In many ways, the Summit isn’t like any other industry event. There is no trade show; it’s purely content driven. It’s a point that has been raised by some in the past, but for Wyght it’s a non-starter – it doesn’t fit with the original objective.

“The decision was made at the very beginning that the event would be strictly non-commercial,” he says. “This is just purely focused on aviation safety, safety in general, but specifically aviation safety. We’re not selling anything . . . it would kill what we are trying to create.”

Another key objective, Wyght says, is to ensure the conference exudes a sense of objectivity – competition is left at the door. Operators, competitors are free to share problems and challenges openly and without fear. But it’s a challenging concept.

“It was difficult to create that atmosphere in a competitive market,” Wyght says, “so what we thought we would do is pay money initially to bring in the best speakers we could in the world. People like Scott Schapell, Doug Weightman, Tony Kern, Patrick Hudson, Graham Braithwaite. We’ve been really fortunate in getting them. The vision I was proposing to my CEO, was to bring in the best minds in the industry. We create 90-minute lunches and 30-minute breaks and we provide the food for them for breakfast, lunch and the breaks. That was a strategic decision with the idea that they don’t have to go anywhere, they just stay there and we talk. We build the relationships.”

The Summit boasts some 70 workshops running over three days, but realistically, attendees can only get to about 10 of them. Says Wyght: “We have two sessions of plenary and then 10 choices you can make out of 70, so we thought we would have at least 33 per cent new speakers, or new sessions, every year. The idea being that you could go to only the new sessions every year and you’d have a choice of two. We have course feedback forms and we’ve generally had 80 per cent feedback. We take that and we rank them, from one being worst to five being the speaker is walking on water in six different categories. They must score 80 per cent or higher or we don’t bring them back for next year.”

While several of the headline speakers are summit fixtures, Wyght adds new wrinkles every year to keep everyone on their toes, if not on the edge of their seats.  With the theme of this year’s summit being “Corporate Responsibility vs. Personal Accountability: two sides of the same coin,” they keynote address will be in the form of a political-style debate with John Nance taking the corporate side and Tony Kern stumping for personal accountability.  To keep things moving, Scott Schapell act as moderator, or as Wyght sees it, “winds them up.”  Graham Braithwaite of Cranfield University will act as a freelance hitman, jumping in on either side of the debate as he sees fit. It's all in keeping with Greg Wyght’s vision of a “different learning experience.”

A Higher Plane

One of the most impressive trends developing over the years is the level of attendees checking out the content. “Three years ago we were struck by the high percentage of delegates who carry the title president, vice-president, managing director, that level in a company,” Wyght says. “Last year, we had more than 125 presidents, vice-presidents, managing directors, etc., in attendance.”

The CHC Safety & Quality Summit offers all helicopter operators a chance to assess and evaluate safety matters in a non-competitive environment. (Photo by Paul Dixon)


To target this high-level group, one room has been set up for the executive-level session. “We’ve brought special speakers and we’ve targeted them with, ‘what does an executive level need to know about aviation safety?’ The idea is that they teach for a while and then we challenge them with questions. We try to get them talking to each other. Aviation company presidents, the oil company aviation CEOs, and Transport Canada’s general director is there. At that level they are talking to their peers and not sitting with their employees, where they may not bring up some subjects. This allows them to deal with those issues.”

In the same vein, Wyght says one of the highlights of this year’s conference will feature an SMS course for middle managers. “I talked to Tom Anthony, the director at USC, and asked him to gear it for HR people, accountants, people who don’t have an aviation background, but need to have the passion and value aviation safety over all other aspects of our business.”

That is precisely how to describe Greg Wyght – a man with a passion for safety, whose dedication and vision is responsible for a truly worthwhile and necessary event.

Speakers’ Spotlight
This year’s speaker lineup for the CHC Safety & Quality Summit packs a punch. Some headliners include:

  • Dr. Graham Braithwaite, director of Cranfield Safety and Accident Investigation Centre. Braithwaite, who holds a Bachelor of Science in Transport Management and Planning and a PhD in Aviation Safety Management from Loughborough University, joined Cranfield University in 2003 as director of the Safety and Accident Investigation Centre and became Head of the Department of Air Transport in 2006.

His research interests are in the fields of accident and incident investigation, human factors, safety management and the influence of culture on safety. He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and a Member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators.

  • John Nance, best-selling author, professional speaker, pilot, licensed attorney and aviation correspondent for ABC News and Good Morning America. He will also be a keynote speaker at the event.

Nance is a decorated Air Force pilot veteran of Vietnam and Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield and a lieutenant-colonel in the USAF Reserve. He is a nationally known author of 19 major books, a sought-after columnist and has long been listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Law and Who’s Who Among Emerging Leaders in America.

  • Dr. Tony Kern, CEO of Convergent Performance, will also be a keynote speaker at this year’s event.

A former pilot and internationally recognized expert in the field of human error in aviation, Kern has written five books on the subject and lectured around the globe for nearly two decades. He is making his second consecutive address at the Summit. He was a command pilot and flight examiner in the B-1B bomber, and has senior staff and leadership experience, including service as the chair of the Air Force Human Factors Steering Group and director and professor of military history at the USAF Academy.


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