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Ever land at a job site to hear the virtues of ‘Joey E Smith’ – the best pilot ever? The fact that Joey was one of the worst, most accident prone pilots in the industry seemed to escape the customer.


July 6, 2007
By Ken Armstrong

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Is the best long-liner or the best bucketer the highest-paid pilot in
the industry? Nope! The best-paid chopper pilots are those who excel in
customer relations. Exposure to the industry teaches us that a
cooperative temperament will impress customers more than raw ‘stick
handling’.

Ever
land at a job site to hear the virtues of ‘Joey E Smith’ – the best
pilot ever? The fact that Joey was one of the worst, most accident
prone pilots in the industry seemed to escape the customer. You see,
clients don’t generally know enough about flying skills to accurately
assess them. However, virtually all of us can assess personalities. My
wife taught me how to relate to a customer when I declined lifting a
heavy load with an S58T because calm wind and high-density altitude
precluded placement at the higher landing site. The manager shrugged
and walked away, knowing the previous pilot had accomplished the task.
Linda had me ask if he wanted me to give the load a try and he
responded with a smile and approval for the paid attempt. Just as I
predicted, the load remained glued to the ground, but the customer
appreciated my effort on his behalf. My completely safe and
instructional effort had made my point. This also taught me that
educating the customer was a worthwhile investment of my time.
Communicating openly makes one a member of the team. That foreman never
questioned my judgment again.

Remember too, the customer is
always right – even when he is wrong. You are being paid to look at
tasks from the customer’s point of view. Also, you are the on-site
salesman for your company and its financial well being depends on your
success in the field. If the companies you represent are successful,
your salary will increase commensurately as will the demand for your
services.

An offshoot of improved communication is to learn the
client’s master plan and goals and then potentially find better ways to
accomplish them. Just because a task has been done the same way for
years doesn’t make it the best way today. Tact and an ability to
explain to a client why it is in his best interest to do it your way is
a huge asset. For instance, we don’t carry illegally heavy loads
because the skid gear is not certified for that weight and after an
autorotation it can collapse causing a rollover and potentially a blade
penetrating into the cockpit. Explaining this in front of all the crew
will ensure the foreman isn’t inclined to push for risky load weights.

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It
pays to invest time with all the crew as the knowledge you gain can
help during flying operations. Moreover, they will consider you part of
their team and help rather than hinder your efforts. Show them
consideration during operations by finding ways to make their task
easier and they will appreciate your efforts on their behalf. (This can
also enhance revenue through additional tasks for the helicopter in an
effort to increase the operation’s productivity.)

These
cooperative and communicative personality skills can be beneficial when
applied to the AME you work with too! Everyone benefits when AMEs and
pilots are able to create a team environment. But don’t stop there –
improve your relationship with the helicopter company management and
the clerical staff back in the head office as well. If they all
appreciate your efforts, they will want to keep you around when are
aircrew are released. Don’t underestimate the importance of what
appears to be the least significant member of the crew. That apprentice
might be the company owner’s son working on his university tuition.

Avoid
the macho, know-it-all attitude that is prevalent in the industry.
These traits scare customers who conclude you will take chances with
their lives in attempts to prove how good you are. Cowboy pilots out to
prove their prowess need to realize they should be flying to the
limitations of their queasiest passenger. I once saw an entire
operation shut down when a key crew member walked off the job after a
near wire strike during a low-flying stint along a river. The
helicopter company lost the contract and the pilot’s career was
terminated. We must never forget that we don’t have the right to expose
others to high-risk situations.

So, what are a pilot’s most
important skills to excel in the industry? There are many, many
considerations to be sure. But, whatever your conclusions, be sure to
add: tact, salesmanship, sensitivity to differing personalities, temper
control, listening to what your company and customer really want and
then placing their goals at the top of your priority list. Meanwhile,
don’t forget to hone your piloting skills for increased safety.


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