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Safety and the HAC

This year marks the 18th year that the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC) has been around with the mandate to represent the interests of the industry and its member companies.


October 22, 2013
By Walter Heneghan

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This year marks the 18th year that the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC) has been around with the mandate to represent the interests of the industry and its member companies. HAC serves a valuable purpose by serving as a focal point where operators can have issues important to them addressed in a coherent manner. But the HAC is only as good as its members want it to be, and I am issuing a call to arms to its member companies, and to those pilots and AMEs who work in the industry to participate.

Now, I will stick my neck out here and offer an opinion that the level of participation in the major subcommittees of the HAC is well below what it should be, and therefore minimizes the benefits that could be reaped by the organization. Previously, I have written in this space about the Pareto principle – (the 80/20 rule) – and in this context, that would mean that a low number of participants generates the bulk of the work. This is not a good thing as it reduces the effectiveness of your organization and burns out those who care enough to be involved.

From what I have observed, there is a very small cadre of dedicated volunteers who make the subcommittees of the HAC work, and once you volunteer for a leadership role, there is a collective sigh of relief among the remaining bystanders that they weren’t obliged to step up. (C’mon, admit it.)

So, what does this have to do with safety? One of the stated primary objectives of the HAC is “to promote the continued enhancement of flight safety.” Within its structure, the HAC has several industry-oriented committees, including a Safety Committee. This group could be driven to improve industry safety records, provide or enhance education and become a more effective tool in “raising the bar.” This committee could be a great resource for Company Aviation Safety Officers (CASOs). This committee could help orient the association’s agenda so that safety has a prime place on the order paper.

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During the annual gathering of industry “glitterati,” the Safety Committee meetings could generate real discussion about how to make our industry safer, how to make our pilots better decision makers and how to improve maintenance practices. In general, it’s about how to be better. But it can’t achieve any of this unless there is better participation. In my view, this must start with a strong commitment from the senior leaders of the HAC member companies. There must be a push to encourage participation, complete with funding to travel, attend seminars and develop our “trade craft.”

This commitment from member companies needs to be backstopped with the participation of a range of talented pilots, managers and AMEs. And I’m not talking about the “usual suspects,” the 20 per cent who are involved. I am challenging you to change the ratio, to get the 80 per cent into the mix. I am challenging all of you who love to be creative about what needs to change to get involved and effect the change. I am challenging you to put up your hand when Keith and Rob ask for new blood to participate in the HAC Safety Committee or when Bob Toews is looking for help with the IFR group or any of the other committee chairs who often have the thankless task of driving the process on their own. I am challenging you to, as the saying goes, “be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Our industry safety record needs improvement. Helicopter services are a vital business and economic enabler but if we continue to have three to four dozen accidents each year, we are all in jeopardy. I know that there are a lot of really talented and smart people involved in our business who can contribute to making operations safer. I know that we have the ability to learn from one another about our mistakes and our successes and that we can benefit from the learned lessons collectively. I know that if we buy into that notion, greater participation will create better results, and make for a safer, and more productive industry. I know, as the American social-anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote, that “…[there is no] doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The bottom line at this year’s HAC? Let’s move the 80 per cent. Get involved. Make our world better, and safer.


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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