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The Great Debate

It was an important week in Vancouver for members of the helicopter industry to herald the arrival of spring 2011, with the Helicopter Association of Canada’s annual Convention & Trade Show March 25-27 followed immediately thereafter by the CHC Safety & Quality Summit.


May 3, 2011
By Paul Dixon

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It was an important week in Vancouver for members of the helicopter industry to herald the arrival of spring 2011, with the Helicopter Association of Canada’s annual Convention & Trade Show March 25-27 followed immediately thereafter by the CHC Safety & Quality Summit.
Both conferences covered many critical issues and topics, and another common thread connected them: the overall theme of the CHC’s annual gathering, Corporate Responsibility vs. Personal Accountability – Two Sides of the Same Coin.

The brainchild of CHC’s vice-president, safety and quality, Greg Wyght, this year’s CHC event got off to a rousing start with three heavyweights debating both sides of the issue. Tony Kern, PhD, CEO of Convergent Performance, LLC, took the personal side, while John Nance, an aviation analyst with John Nance Productions, rode the corporate pony. With animated Scott Shappell, PhD, co-founder of HTACS Inc. as moderator (instigator?) and enigmatic Graham Braithwaite, PhD, head of the department of Air Transport at Cranfield University, working both sides of the border, it was like watching the 3-D chess game in the first Star Wars.

Looking back over the past decade, we’ve had far too many examples where corporate responsibility and personal accountability were required. Does one have to come before the other and can either exist in the absence of the other? Is it the chicken or is it the egg? What was Enron – personal or corporate? The crash of the Colgan Q-400 in Buffalo just before last year’s CHC Summit – was that personal or corporate?

Look at what has happened in Japan, with an earthquake followed by a tsunami, topped with the threat of a nuclear disaster that could make Chernobyl look like a burned out light bulb by comparison. The Japanese live in constant awareness of earthquakes. For the past 50 years, Japan has marked Sept. 1st, the anniversary of the 1923 Tokyo earthquake that killed more than 100,000, as Disaster Prevention Day. Evacuation drills are a staple at schools, businesses and public offices across the country. Japan has the world’s most extensive earthquake warning system, as well as hundreds of tsunami sensors ringing the country. It’s moot at this point to wonder what the death toll might have been if all these steps had not been implemented, but the reality is that the largest earthquake in Japan’s history, followed by a massive tsunami has devastated a large portion of the country, killed tens of thousands and lefts hundreds of thousands homeless.

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The triple whammy for Japan is the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant situation. Japan is the personal/corporate accountability/responsibility question at a macro level. At the HAC luncheon March 26, veteran EMS pilot and this month’s Helicopters guest columnist, Randy Mains (see, “Lessons Learned,” pg. 38) spoke with great passion about the pressure placed on EMS pilots in a for-profit health care system to fly in sub-marginal conditions and about decisions being made for the wrong reasons. It’s the perfect analysis of responsibility and accountability at the micro level. And it, of course, begs the question: can you make good decisions at the personal level if the corporate model is skewed?

When I interviewed Maj.-Gen. Yvan Blondin, COO of the Canadian air force earlier this year (see, “A Commanding Force,” pg. 24), he spoke about key missions that our military is tasked with by our government and the challenges in fulfilling these missions with personnel and equipment that are stretched micro-thin. These are dangerous missions: search-and-rescue in the high Arctic, long-range maritime surveillance patrols, humanitarian flights into rudimentary airfields around the world, anti-piracy missions, and supply and support missions in Afghanistan. Everything the Canadian Forces does is at the edge of the envelope and often goes beyond, but as the general says, – “If we don’t do these missions, who will?”

Canadians are in the middle of the federal election campaign as this column goes to press. The electoral process in this country is our personal exercise in accountability – accountability as in, “Count me in.” The voter turnout in the previous federal election was an all time low at 58 per cent. It’s a record I hope we don’t break this time. It’s not a chicken or egg question. If you make a conscious decision not to vote, then you’ve abdicated your personal accountability and there can never be any corporate responsibility.

Here’s hoping the corporate entities in the aviation industry continue to analyze and measure both sides of the responsibility coin – and continue to strive for the ultimate standards in safety and customer satisfaction.


Paul Dixon is freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.


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