Safety in Numbers

Pilots, Engineers Working in Tandem Prevent Accidents
Michael Bellamy
March 08, 2013
By Michael Bellamy
In the helicopter industry, no one has more to lose with the omission of safe practices than the pilot in command or the engineer who released the machine to service. It’s their contributions that come under severe scrutiny in the event of an accident or incident.

With regulatory sources ever expanding from Transport Canada, company operations and customers, it’s difficult to think of any action that can’t be construed as contrary to some regulation or another. Whether or not safety has been compromised is in the eye of the originator, and is not necessarily an opinion shared by the aircrew tasked with the responsibility.

Flying and servicing helicopters in the field provides us with intimate familiarity not available to the desk-bound safety consultant or to boardroom discussions. Therefore, in a coordinated approach to safety, shouldn’t we be contributing our individual insight and practices? And shouldn’t our recommendations on proposed regulation carry more weight?

Regulation has been in place for many years, protecting pilots from fatigue with established duty days, and it’s being modified once again, yet engineers are still called upon to chase a helicopter by day and then perform maintenance at night. Is their contribution no less important?

On numerous occasions arriving after a night’s sleep, I have been asked by the engineer to accompany him, verifying that all maintenance completed during the night was properly safety wired. I appreciated that I was the safeguard he had in place during times of fatigue, but can only speculate as to why, with the myriad regulations in place, that some things had never been addressed.

Pilots and engineers institute some of the most pertinent safety contributions. Exposure in day-to-day operations invariably unmasks situations that could lead to an accident. I am continually impressed with safeguards implemented by individuals who, with little encouragement, share their perceptions on how to avoid the traps. Aircrew determine where the hazards are, then establish safeguards that may appear to be cursory, but are effective nonetheless, and if adhered to, need no further addition.

Recognizing the potential of a “close call” in operations automatically triggers a thought and an implementation process. Each discovery culminates in a code of conduct we refer to as experience. Through experience, we develop habits or procedures that we adhere to with almost religious fervour, knowing full well the risk we take in their absence.

Proper safety briefings involving a pilot and engineer are necessary and may prevent occurrences such as these:
  • the engineer who will not interrupt a particular task until it’s completed or the pilot who shuts down to refuel and then lays a section of the long line on top of the pilot’s step reminding him/her that it’s still attached to the cargo hook
  • a pilot who, having missed an exhaust cover that someone else had installed, realizes that his/her upward vision had been impeded by the peak of a baseball cap
  •  an AStar pilot who leaves the gas cap not on the step but on the pilot’s seat, likely because he forgot it once or was told how easy it is to forget and decides it won’t happen to him
Usually a pilot and engineer before embarking on a job, will discuss personal preferences when working around the machine. The crew that respects and adheres to this procedure are acknowledging practices that have been established to prevent an accident. Once seated in the cockpit or having twisted the last dzus on the cowl, there is nothing more unsettling than the nagging suspicion that you have forgotten something.

There will always be an element of risk associated with helicopter operations. Until more safety procedures are solicited from the aircrews, uninformed or extraneous regulation will contribute more frustration than safety.

Pilots and engineers know it is often the most innocuous mistake that can lead to tragedy and all it takes is to adhere to an elementary proviso to avoid it. A discipline doesn’t necessarily have to be preceded by three digits and a decimal point to be effective in preventing an accident. A professional routine developed over time becomes entrenched with unique safeguards. Sometimes it’s trivial in execution, but it’s no less important and it’s all worth sharing.

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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