Helicopters Magazine

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Rites of Spring

Spring training is upon us once again. For some, it’s a time to dust off skills that have been languishing over the winter; for others, it’s merely an interruption but a necessary sabbatical from revenue flying.


March 26, 2012
By Michael Bellamy

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Spring training is upon us once again. For some, it’s a time to dust off skills that have been languishing over the winter; for others, it’s merely an interruption but a necessary sabbatical from revenue flying. It’s also a time to renew friendships and catch up on “there I was” stories as pilots from all theatres of operation gather in one place.

The spring itinerary varies little from company to company. There are written examinations for pilots, covering everything from company policy and aircraft systems to the handling of dangerous goods. There are lectures on all matters of company endeavours, usually culminating with administration people bemoaning a pilot’s ineptitude when it comes to paperwork. Then, it’s out to the helicopter and the fun begins.

Training pilots are usually pulled from the experienced pilot roster and must demonstrate their desire to train and understand company operations. Company check pilots (ACPs) are authorized by the Transport minister to conduct flight checks independent of Transport Canada inspectors. Knowledge of CARs, the company operations
manual and aircraft specifications are also required. However, the check pilot may not have accumulated flying skills in certain company operations, which is not to say they can’t evaluate, but occasionally, they make judgments based solely on their own experience.

On a check ride, this becomes apparent when the ACP moves from examining on established or published aircraft parameters to evaluating the candidate’s ability to handle the helicopter in a working environment. Long lining, bucket expertise or confined area approaches, for example, may be familiar circumstances to the pilot being judged, but not so to the examiner. Pilots’ comfort levels may differ, and until experience is gained, their first introduction to a difficult procedure will certainly involve a degree of “pucker factor.” When this happens, an ACP’s initial reaction may be to grade the performance as uncomfortable, or below standard. This isn’t necessarily right.

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I have witnessed an experienced training pilot’s evaluation of a candidate as “Above Standard” and immediately afterwards, the ACP graded the pilot as “Satisfactory with Briefing.” It’s still a passing grade, but it’s the ACP’s evaluation that will be entered on the pilot’s file not the training pilot’s. So, which one is accurate?

What I’ve found rewarding when I’ve been in the capacity of a training pilot or ACP, is evaluating skills in from pilots who are involved in theatres that I have little recent experience in – I have watched a Jet Ranger pilot unerringly judge obstacle clearances within meters after spending a summer moving surveyors, observed a seismic pilot seemingly over-controlling his machine while his load hung motionless in one spot. I rarely judged based on my own comfort level in these situations; I was evaluating the candidates.

Safety margins were maintained relative to the skill of the pilot, and most of all, he/she maintained a professional attitude.

With helicopter operations ever expanding into new fields, no one can possibly gain all of the skills necessary to master every facet of operations – so, perhaps rendering judgments should be limited as well. The examining pilot has an invaluable opportunity to learn in these situations also.

Knowledge of the flight characteristics of a particular machine and the mechanics of dealing with unusual situations is paramount and is defined with caveats in the AFM (aircraft flight manual). But a pilot dealing repeatedly with moving surveyors will be comfortable with confined area landings, which would send an IFR’s pilot adrenalin into full rich. Pilots all have differing comfort levels.

So, how can an examining pilot whose skills in a particular segment are rusty – or non-existent – make a determination on a candidate’s performance? It’s a good question. If it goes beyond the normal capability of the machine and compromises
safety, then the examining pilot has an obligation to question and realign the candidate’s procedures. But not all approaches into a confined area necessitate protracted deliberation, for example. A pilot used to making such decisions on a continuous basis, would know how to go about the task skilfully and may not appear to the ACP as being too casual.

Spring training is a critical time of year, whether you’re a seasoned veteran, ACP or training pilot. It’s a time to refresh old skills,
and develop new ones, and keep an open mind in all situational endeavours. It’s all about having another safe season in the air.


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