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The Safety Premise

In the quest to raise global helicopter safety standards, there are individuals and organizations that go above and beyond to ensure the global accident needle is inching toward the “zero” mark.


March 5, 2015
By Matt Nicholls


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In the quest to raise global helicopter safety standards, there are individuals and organizations that go above and beyond to ensure the global accident needle is inching toward the “zero” mark.

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The BARS program was originally developed to meet the needs of the mining and resources sector. Great Slave Helicopters helped in its development. (Photo courtesy of Great Slave Helicopters)


 
 

And while the global helicopter industry has not yet hit the desired mark of reducing accidents by 80 per cent by 2016 as sought by the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST), the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) is doing its part to raise safety standards, reduce accidents and save lives.

The FSF is an international non-profit organization designed to provide impartial, independent and expert safety resources for a variety of aerospace fields. Sporting a membership of more than 1,000 organizations and independent aviators from 150 countries across a broad range of industry sectors, the FSF is in a unique position to identify global issues, set priorities for the industry and create safety tools that organizations and independent aviators can use to enhance their own safety envelopes.

The FSF also works to bridge cultural and political differences that may arise within various nations’ regulatory structures, in turn harmonizing the objectives of industry and bringing a cohesive vision to key safety issues. A trip to the FSF’s Web site
(www.flightsafety.org) offers helicopter operators a wide variety of safety tools they can use in their individual organizations, from free safety reports and publications on topics such as Ground Accident Prevention (GAP), Treat and Error Management (TEM), to key safety initiatives and more.

As VP, global programs and managing director of the foundation’s Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) program, Greg Marshall works tirelessly with various helicopter operators and various OEMs to enhance global safety standards and develop tools for safer operating practices. Marshall is also the driving force behind the FSF’s BARS program, designed to provide a global aviation safety assessment and audit protocol.

BARS is a risk-based model framed against the actual threats posed to aviation operations, particularly those that occur within challenging and remote environments. Created five years ago, it directly links these threats to associated controls, recovery and mitigation measures as opposed to outdated and prescriptive formats previously used within a number of industries.

And while the program was originally developed to meet the needs of the mining and resources sector – for example, Great Slave Helicopters (GSH), based in Yellowknife, N.W.T., has been a key contributor to the BARS program – it is also used by other organizations that use aviation to support their activities. These include government, humanitarian and other aid agencies. Through BARS, individual aviators and organizations can undergo an audit process that ensures their operation meets the stringent BARS standards, or simply tap into an extensive array of safety and risk assessment tools that can help them improve, enhance or develop safety processes.

“The beauty of the BARS program is you don’t have to do an audit to take advantage of BARS,” Marshall told Helicopters. “The BARS standard is freely available on our website. You can download that, as an aircraft operator, and use it as you wish without having to undergo a BARS audit at no expense.”

Interested parties can also choose to pay for the audit process, which enables their operation to be BARS registered. Last year was a particularly successful one for the BARS program. Some of the highlights:

  • Version 5 of the BAR Standard and the accompanying BARS Implementation Guidelines documents were released after undergoing a comprehensive review followed by a complete re-write by professional technical writers
  • An independent review of the policies and procedures of the BARS program was undertaken by an independent audit company, KPMG. It is believed to be the first time anywhere that such an independent review has been undertaken
  • A dedicated BARS Standard for Offshore Helicopter Operations and a Flight Crew CBT framework were born. This year will see the introduction of enhancements to the program with a variation to an existing category that many aircraft operators may find advantageous

Developing a New Standard
Within the onshore resources sector, a number of companies had their own aviation standards, derived from various sources that they would apply individually. BARS was developed to try to overcome the variability of these standards and resulting audits by coming up with one industry agreed standard. And that standard wasn’t developed by the FSF; it was developed by the industry involved in the onshore sector. So, the basic aviation standard was developed, implemented and has evolved over that five years. The FSF is currently on version five of the standard and hopes to introduce a new version in 2016, though it may come out in later 2015.

Hayes_Camp  
Rethinking the flight operations process has helped CHC become safer and far more efficient. (Photo courtesy of Great Slave Helicopters)


 

“The interesting thing about the offshore and onshore world is with offshore, there are probably six key players that have developed over the years their own standards, they have their own departments and their own people that they employ or contract aircraft to and work towards those internal standards.” Marshall said. “What you have is a situation similar [to] the onshore world, where you have multiple audits of a number of operators. Some operators were having audits conducted significant numbers of times per year on behalf of different clients.”

When developing the new BAR Standards, the FSF found a number of smaller oil companies don’t necessarily have their own aviation standards – or they use other guidelines that are in place – but there was nothing that was specifically in place that was dedicated to them. So, the FSF set about establishing a discreet offshore helicopter operations component to complement the original BARS.

“In doing this, we procured the services of an industry subject matter expert to help us with its development. The resulting BARS Offshore Helicopter Operations is currently in draft form and is in circulation in the industry for comment,” Marshall said. “And of course, we are receiving comments and suggestions from different quarters. But generally, it is being received very positively.”

The idea behind the new offshore standards, Marshall said, is not to go out and say to the big players that this should replace what they are doing internally – it’s really tailored and catered for those organizations that don’t have a standard.

“I had discussion with an offshore organization recently and we were talking about this and coordinating some efforts in this regard,” he said. “The offshore standard helps to address a couple of issues that were raised by the U.K. CAA last year with regards to CAP 1145. It shows a synergy in standards and auditing. So, you have one standard to which an aircraft auditor can be auditing against. One of the other recommendations out of that Cap was for the industry to look at a pool auditing system. And BARS already does that, it has been doing it for five years. The BARS Offshore Helicopter Operations Standard would help this as well.”

A Collaborative Effort
One of the impressive things about the BARS program is it was designed and supported by resource sector organizations from around the world, giving it not only relevance on a number of critical levels but credibility as well. Marshall is quick to point out that an immense amount of thought and care went into the development of the program, and improvements and enhancements are ongoing.

GREAT-SLAVE  
Rethinking the flight operations process has helped CHC become safer and far more efficient. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


 

“There is a tremendous amount of expertise in those organizations that have contributed to the standard,” Marshall said. “One of the things with our standard is we have a technical advisory committee that is comprised of representatives of those organizations and we meet every six months. The sole purpose of that is to come up with improvements to the standard, which adds prudence to the program, which includes establishing and developing new initiatives, whether that be training or the development of tool kits or what have you. Our competency-based training framework is one example which we are working with at the moment.”

Collaboration, of course, is a key competent of improving global safety standards and, ultimately, reducing accidents, incidents and saving lives. The recent establishment of HeliOffshore with major global players in the international offshore community is testament to that. At times, however, operators can work in a vacuum and fail to share information that would benefit the industry as the whole. The BARS process is a strong indicator that shared processes work.

“I think we are all committed to the same thing, but I think in some cases there are some things being developed in isolation so, you think when it pops up, where did that come from,” Marshall said. “The manufacturers are doing a great job because they are very much aligned and though there is a competitive nature with the big OEMS, they are absolutely aligned in terms of safety. The problem exists within subsectors of the industry. There is often a problem of communication here. One person is developing one thing that someone else is already developing.

“I think in the case of us developing the BARS for Offshore Helicopter Operations, we publicized the fact we are doing it, we highlighted it at industry conferences, and then we find another standard is being developed in a parallel way. That was done because they didn’t know we were developing the BARS Offshore. So there is an opportunity to collaborate.”

So, with all of the safety tools that the FSF offers the helicopter community, does Marshall feel individual operators are doing enough to take advantage of them? Are they doing enough to enhance their own safety standards?

“Partly, yes,” Marshall said. “The organizations that come on board with us will say we have the minimum requirement to provide services, but they recognize it should be the BAR Standard that they strive for and should be auditing against that. And, you know, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you are an aircraft operator in Africa or North America or South America, if they are audited to the BAR Standard they are audited to exactly the same standard in exactly the same manner and the report is objective.”

The beauty of the BARS program, Marshall added, is you don’t have to do an audit to take advantage of BARS. As noted, the BARS standard is freely available on the FSF website and can be downloaded as an aircraft operator. A BARS audit is not necessary for aircraft operators to take advantage of the opportunity to develop safety improvements of their own systems without any cost.

“We have a very good product and it is subject to further review and amendment," Marshall said. "It is a continuous improvement by nature. That’s what BARS is all about it. And we will take constructive comments from any quarter if we can improve the standard for the industry as a whole.”

New Safety Initiatives Include IIMC Training
One of the newest projects for the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) is its work to establish a framework for the inadvertent entry into IMC. “This is a factor in a number of accidents,” said Greg Marshall, VP, global programs and managing director of the Flight Safety Foundation’s Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) program.

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The beauty of BARS is there are many free tools available for operators. (Photo courtesy of Great Slave Helicopters)



 

“We have seen, particularly in the highlands of New Guinea or in mountainous areas, particularly in South America, weather changes can happen in an instant. One of the major mining companies had an accident a few years ago in the highlands of New Guinea, which killed all 12 people on the helicopter. The crew was boxed in and had nowhere to go and they hit a mountain ridge.

“We are in the process of developing an IIMC training framework that will become available on our website. It’s a free training framework that anyone can pick up and adopt to their organization – they can adopt it entirely as they see fit.”

The goal is to have the framework ready to post on the FSF website in the next six months.


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