Safety & Training
Taking More Control
March 15, 2017 By Corey Taylor
Does anyone want to work off-site anymore? I count myself in the group that loathes being gone too long these days.
I can remember when you took a helicopter from the hangar with snow still on the ground and returned end of season with flurries in the forecast and the hay long cut and bailed. I know many pilots who saw their kids grow a foot between them leaving and coming home again.
Of course this led to some cases of AIDS (Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome) but for some, the passion for flying and seeing the world outweighed the familial responsibilities and often financial pressures forced pilots and engineers into accepting conditions that seem beyond the pale when viewed through today’s societal lens.
That said, those were halcyon days in the helicopter industry. It could truly be viewed as a rugged pioneering spirit coupled to a strong work ethic focused on customer service. Today, nobody wants to go to a camp, even in the highest reaches of the arctic, unless they can get WiFi.
Gone are the days when it was great just to have a tent to one’s self and maybe some decent food. Not being a luddite, I think the creature comforts and shorter tours are good things and companies caring about people’s quality of life and not just how much revenue they can generate is a sign of progress – but there are also challenges associated with these ever-changing mores.
Since virtually no one runs up against the flight and duty time envelope these days, particularly regarding the consecutive-days-worked allowance, wouldn’t it be prudent to self-manage ourselves into something that more closely resembles current norms?
Operators tell me all the time they won’t even allow (never mind force) a pilot or engineer to work 42 straight days anymore – barring emergencies, often to be confused with bad planning – and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t let them take five days off and go back for another six-week stint. Even as I write this, it seems hard to believe that 42-5-42 was very common in the not-too-distant past, especially when there was a decent fire season to be had.
Some believe that leaving the flight and duty times standards as they are provides flexibility in the event of unforeseen operational circumstances – again, bad planning in many cases – but as we have seen with the Transport Canada FDT Working Group squabble of the last few years, outside observers care about what is in the statutes, not what the operators “may” do to be more restrictive. It’s sort of like when you get a credit check and they take the sum of the limits on your cards and assume you’re maxed, rather than checking the balances.
If it’s true that operators are self-restricting their tour lengths and other expectations, then this is an opportunity to get out in front of the regulator and produce a new standard that may be voluntary at the outset but could be enshrined in law later, much the way other industry best practices have gone.
There is very little support for the proposed changes in the VFR helicopter industry and the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC) did propose some alternate limits. But what about producing a structure, supported by HAC, and then having operators volunteer to abide by it? Variances could be granted for unforeseen circumstances but would need to be documented and reported. We could beta test a new set of rules well in advance of something unworkable becoming law. This works in other industries, so why not for the helicopter industry in Canada?
While we’re self-regulating, there are other things we’re allowed to do that make little sense with all we’ve learned over the years. For instance, if you hoisted or long-lined someone to hang a marker ball on a conductor, the aircraft would need to be a twin with the ability to hover on one engine.
However, if you use a bench on the side of the helicopter and have the marker ball installer doing the work from that bench, you can use a single-engine helicopter (hovering between phases) as if this is somehow safer.
A recent fatal accident in Canada tells the story and how anyone can make the case that a Class D load of any (non-emergency) kind, whether above or below the skids, should be able to utilize a single-engine helicopter is beyond me. As an industry that clearly cares about our people, let’s not wait for the regulator to make rules for us that we should be making for ourselves.
Corey Taylor is the vice-president of business development for Newfoundland’s Universal Helicopters.