HEPAC Taking Shape: Membership Growing, Priorities Are Set

HEPAC Taking Shape: Membership Growing, Priorities Are Set
Drew McCarthy
August 06, 2008
By now, just about everybody in the Canadian helicopter industry has at least heard of HEPAC. For those who haven’t, the acronym stands for the Helicopter Engineers and Pilots Association of Canada. Although HEPAC has been around since 2003, it has really just started to take shape over the past year or so.

On its website, HEPAC describes itself as, “a professional, non-profit organization that provides a strong, organized, effective voice for engineers and pilots across the country who are looking for constructive change and positive, proactive solutions to help make our industry the best it can be.” (www.hepac.org ) Run entirely by volunteers, HEPAC is clear in pointing out that, “it is not a union.”

The fledging association made news in the trade press last spring when it submitted a proposal to Transport Canada for the implementation and auditing of the Safety Management System (SMS) in the Canadian helicopter industry.

In addition to the SMS proposal, HEPAC has focused on two other issues that have been identified as important to its members: working with insurers to purchase benefits for members, and establishing a mentorship program to help deal with the shortage of qualified helicopter pilots in Canada.

HEPAC spokesperson, interim president and pilot Lee Johnson says that these three issues currently represent the priorities of the association.

The original idea for the association came from veteran Canadian pilot and engineer Don McDougall. There was a lot of skepticism in the beginning, says Johnson, but now there are many in the industry who see the need for this type of association. Johnson commends McDougall for his dedication and as he says, “for being ahead of his time.”

Much of the recent activity in HEPAC has been in response to the issue of industry self-management.

“We are looking long term, probably to 2010 for self-management,” says Johnson.  “But the big thing is that Transport Canada is trying to get out of the business of enforcement and is planning to download responsibility onto the industry. How that is going to work is still open to interpretation.”

Johnson explains that when the self-management issue recently came to light, “It was a big concern for all of us. Everyone realized that the three segments of the industry –  operators, engineers, and pilots – would need to come together on this issue to create some workable solutions.” HEPAC’s proposal last spring was its attempt to engage Transport Canada and the Canadian industry in positive discussion.

“Transport Canada still hasn’t defined the boundaries of how they are going to do it,” says Johnson, “and that’s where HEPAC has stepped forward and said, ‘Alright we’re two years away from this, you need to start putting some meat on the bone here.’”

On the insurance front, HEPAC’s initiative comes as a direct request from its members to provide health benefits – accidental death and various other layers of benefits, because more and more Canadian pilots are now working as contractors. Johnson says the project is moving along nicely but admits that there have been a few setbacks and that “it’s a lot more complicated than we thought it was going to be.”

The mentorship program is probably HEPAC’s most developed initiative. It is based on the tried and true strategy of teaming a rookie with a seasoned veteran. “It’s something that the fixed-wing folks have been doing for a long time,” says Dan Mulligan, OPP pilot and chair of HEPAC’s mentorship committee, “and it also parallels what police forces do when training.”

The mentorship program is something everyone can support. “We all want the same thing,” says Johnson. “The operators want to have pilots who are safe and efficient in the field, so we have to get them up to speed from 100 hours and make them operational. Of course, low-time pilots don’t want to go out in the field and be dangerous either.”

The hope is to eventually create something like a graduated licensing system. Once established, the association plans to carefully monitor the program and quantify the results. If successful, then lower-time pilots who have gone through the training should prove over time to be statistically safer than ever before. That is something that the industry could then take to customers, insurers and government.

HEPAC announced its interim board of directors on June 25, 2008, and will hold its first AGM in the fall, when its first elected president and board of directors will be chosen. The association currently has about 100 members; that number includes pilots, engineers and operators.

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