Editorial: January 2016

Take a Look Within: Increasing Safety Levels is a Shared Responsibility
Matt Nicholls
January 08, 2016
By
It never ceases to amaze me how passionate a conversation can get when you manage to corral a group of helicopter professionals in a room for an extended period of time, focusing on one subject. It’s insightful, constructive and downright fun.


This is precisely what transpired in the early morning hours of Nov. 15 at the Helicopter Association of Canada’s (HAC) annual convention and trade show in Vancouver, when  Helicopters  conducted a lively industry roundtable with a very worthy group of industry leaders. Seven experts confined to a room for 60 minutes, all tasked with a mission to discuss safety in the Canadian market – how it has transformed, where it is headed and what needs to be done to make operating environments safer and more secure for all. (Please see, “Ascending the Mountain,” pg. 12)

The subject matter is as vast and complex as the operations the professionals in the room are tasked to carry out with their teams and in planning for the roundtable, determining what subjects to discuss was hardly a slam dunk. The ongoing flight and duty time issue, droning on about drones, economic realities, mergers and acquisitions, finding top talent and employee retention – all were worth bantering about and this group was keen to share their views and perspectives.

Yet, safety remains the issue that shapes the way suppliers and operators build and maintain their businesses and it is most definitely connected to all of these aforementioned issues. Without a sound safety commitment as a grounding principle, dealing with other challenges would be even more complex.

While the discussion highlighted the challenges industry is working through – such as the establishment of a stronger working relationship with Transport Canada (TC), educating “non-forward-thinking” clients impervious to the importance of creating a safe working environment, dealing with economic realities and juggling the cost of enhanced safety procedures – there were many positives shared that point to the emergence of a new safety paradigm.

West Coast Helicopters’ Peter Barratt, for example, pointed out that the “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy that existed at one time has been replaced by a much more active commitment from all operational levels. More and more Canadian operations like West Coast, have a comprehensive Safety Management System (SMS) and best practices. Barratt and his team are taking things to a new level by implementing personality analysis and testing for all pilots to see which roles might be suitable and which are not.

Such practices have been under scrutiny following the Germanwings flight 9525 crash in March 2015 – one of aviation’s top stories of the year. There’s no doubt enhanced psychological testing of pilots in both the fixed and rotary world is going to be more prevalent in the months and years ahead.

A better, more comprehensive way to share best practices and other key safety information was also highlighted by several members of the group – an area that is bound to help industry reach new safety goals. As Valley Helicopter’s Brad Fandrich aptly noted, the Canadian industry recently went through a prolonged period without a fatal accident – the longest duration in its history. Overall, accidents continue to diminish, so essentially steps are being made. Yet, fatal accident numbers remain a concern and the reason numbers continue to stay relatively the same are disturbing.

Also disturbing, as Great Slave Helicopter’s Corey Taylor notes, is a mentality among some clients that when push comes to shove, the safety rhetoric projected by upper management is often tossed aside when the time comes to get the job done. In other words, two philosophies exist – the perceived safety projections by corporate and the “get ’er done” reality pilots deal with to make clients happy, even while almost compromising regulations.

The challenge for industry – and it was discussed at length – is to bridge this gap and ascend to new heights of the safety universe. Technology, enhanced communication, shared information, borrowed best practices from other industries, education – it will all help. But the commitment must also come from each individual and organization with a vested interest. This shared commitment will produce the seeds for future growth. May 2016 be your safest, most prosperous year ever.


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