Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Reasons To Care

May 8, 2012  By Walter Heneghan

Take care of this truck . . . it pays your salary.

Take care of this truck . . . it pays your salary. I saw this sticker on the dash of the fuel bowser at the Moosonee airport years ago when I first began flying the S-76 for Canadian Helicopters. I always thought it was a clever message: simple but straight to the point. This truck is why you have a job, so treat it with respect, maintain it, and you will continue to have a job. For the AMEs and pilots involved in daily flight operations, this bumper sticker refers to your aircraft and support equipment.

Do you inspect the external load gear every day? Do you do a solid, thoughtful and deliberate daily inspection every day? Are you completing and complying with the various airworthiness directives and bulletins, company maintenance advisories and memos every day? Are you completing power checks in accordance with either the OEM direction or company guidance? These items may appear to be motherhood, but in the heat of the battle when there is pressure to generate revenue, are you being true to yourselves and doing all of these things? Every day?

What about you personally? Start with a personal review or inventory. How do you begin your workday? Are you taking care of your own personal health? Are you paying attention to the cues in your personal life so that you can stay safe? When flying like a madman in the busy days of summer, what are you doing, proactively, to stay healthy? Are you drinking enough water, eating properly and getting sufficient rest? Are you properly maintaining the “software” in the equation – the pilot? What about your sleeping arrangements? Are you waking up rested or still tired from an interrupted sleep cycle?

Fatigue is insidious and cumulative, and research completed at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research concluded that recovery from a “sleep debt” incurred over seven days did not recover the declines in performance associated with bad sleep patterns after three “recovery” days.


In other words, once you get tired and try to catch up on your sleep with extended sleep recovery sessions, you will still suffer impairment in your cognitive abilities. All this is bad news for pilots who need to be sharp and on their game. A tired pilot is more prone to making bad decisions that may lead to catastrophic outcomes and fatigue has been identified as an underlying cause in dozens of recent aircraft accidents.

Further to this theme, are you sufficiently attentive to your personal circadian rhythm? Sleep debt, fatigue and circadian lows can all combine to create less than ideal conditions in the cockpit. A combination of the circadian low period (for most of us this is mid-afternoon) and fatigue can reduce pilot performance by up to 35 per cent. The first step to managing this is awareness, so have your strategies ready to combat the mid-afternoon low. Fatigue is a slow-burning fuse – manage its level and you can address this risk.

Fatigue can be exacerbated through dehydration and malnutrition, which are major impediments to top performance as well. Planning personal “fuel” stops is just as critical to safe operations as replenishing the Jet B. Are you planning for regular breaks?

Dehydration, in the peak of summer, is incredibly insidious. A fully grown adult actively engaged in physical labour may need to intake up to six litres of fluid just to replenish that processed or lost by the body. A failure to “rehydrate” has been shown to negatively impact aerobic work performance, increase cardiovascular strain and reduce productivity. In significantly dehydrated adults (four per cent dehydration by body weight), reaction times in some studies have been observed to be changed by over 20 per cent, according to researcher Bob Murray, PhD with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. At the end of a long flying day, returning to camp, flying into the setting sun, can you afford to have your reaction time to an emergency condition reduced by 20 per cent?

Some of these items now must appear to be familiar. Both Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Administration have previously published the I’m Safe checklist for aircrew to use as a handy mnemonic prior to flight: for completing a personal inventory of any underlying illnesses, medication use, stressors, alcohol use, fatigue and eating (food and water).

As we ramp up into the busy flying season, take a personal inventory, ensure that the I’m Safe checklist is valid, and proactively manage the risks to your flight operations that have everything to do with “you.” Let’s rewrite the bumper sticker to read Take care of this pilot . . . he supports his family and implement proactive strategies to manage risk and conduct safer operations.

Walter Heneghan is the VP of Safety and Quality at Canadian Helicopters. A passionate advocate for aviation safety and sound risk management, the veteran pilot presents his regular column for Helicopters magazine.


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