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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

CHC Safety Quality Summit

Talent, training and trust. That was the summit theme for this year’s safety program designed to underscore the importance of combining human resources in bringing helicopter accidents under control

By Pat Gray

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger delivering the keynote speech during the 8th annual CHC Quality & Safety Summit in Vancouver. Photos courtesy of CHC

Under the auspices of the Canadian Helicopter Corporation and numerous sponsors that included OEMs and competing helicopter operators, an intense, no frills safety summit took place from March 26-28 in Vancouver, British Columbia. This was the 8th year for the summit and I’d say that it was one of the jewels of all the helicopter safety forums in 2012. 

The three days of safety immersion started with the introductory safety briefing by CHC’s Greg Wyght, vice president of safety and quality, and opening remarks from President & CEO Bill Amelio. Martin Eley, director general of Transport Canada, gave the opening address for the international participants.

The meeting featured an agenda covering at least 44 different subjects, from 52 speakers in 11 separate classrooms, and masterfully orchestrated to bring home the absolute necessity for the helicopter community to improve its worldwide safety record. With each individual session scheduled for an hour and a half (throw in breakfast, lunch and two 30-minute breaks) it amounted to a 10-hour day, each day.

Tony Cramp (right), senior air safety advisor for Shell Aircraft, hosts a session on simplified hazard management.
The maximum sessions one could attend would be four per day (only two on the first day) or 10 total out of 44. However, there were many repeats so that attendees could hone in on subjects of their interest.

Putting most of the math aside, there were more than 800 participants with a high degree of international flavor. Various helicopter and fixed-wing operators represented all seven continents—about the only absentees were Eastern Block and Middle East representatives.

Following the opening remarks, three motivating speakers—Stephen M.R. Covey, Tom Casey, Tony Kern—and the facilitator, Scott Shappell, held a plenary session (a debate, if you will). The theme of the discussion was improving safety culture through talent, training and trust. These three words would be used throughout the coming days of safety monologues and dialogues.

From the Plenary session, left to right; motivational speakers Tom Casey, Tony Kern and Stephen Covey.
The three plenary speakers stated their case by applying the word trust to steer the listeners to understanding how all three words of the theme are interdependent. Trust is a foundation you must build in your organization from the top down, they said, and is established from your credibility and behavior toward every person on the team. Most aviation companies have used the phrase “just culture” to describe this concept. The interesting part is that it has to take place both ways, managers trusting subordinates and in turn, the subordinate must trust the manager. It then becomes an easier task to find the leadership talent you need—that is, finding people who want to be leaders through their choice rather than 100 percent qualification through time on the job, hours flown and other sometimes marginal managerial choices. Talent is not always an obvious decision.

When trust is prevalent in your organization, safety and training improvements filter down through various layers of management to the real target, flight and maintenance operations, the panelists noted.

Highlights

Training was a major element of the summit. Two of the sessions I attended pointed out the need for the FAA to re-examine and update the outdated Helicopter Practical Test Standards (PTS). That makes sense when instructors are trying to prepare students to be pilots, but more to the point, safe pilots. The summit presenters made the case that these standards were written by people who had a heavy fixed-wing background and even though they may have been helicopter rated, it becomes obvious that there was considerable pass down of fixed-wing experiences being integrated into the early standards for rotary wing piloting. 

Nick Mayhew explains the Bristow Academy view toward safety and training.
Bristow Academy general manager Nick Mayhew gave some examples, saying changes are needed in the areas of human factors, aerial decision-making, crew resource management (CRM) and safety management systems (SMS). By incorporating these areas into a new PTS, training should be elevated to a higher standard. Bristow has done much work coordinating with the FAA and reached a point where the Feds are going to publish an Advisory Circular incorporating at least some of Bristow’s recommendations. In the meantime, FAA is doing a complete review of the PTS requirements with the thought of making safety or safe practices an early part of initial pilot training and testing.

Mark Stevens, director of air safety and global projects for Shell Aircraft International and deputy chairman of the OGP aviation sub-committee, spoke about aviation safety in the oil and gas business. Shell Oil has held a unique position in the helicopter industry for years by writing strict safety standards into their contracts. They go beyond what are perceived to be normal customer/contractor relationships. All aspects of a potential contractor are examined in minute detail with almost total concentration on safe operating practices in accordance with Shell directives, to include personnel qualifications and the contractors operating equipment. There have been incidents where a contractor may not have a certain safety-related piece of equipment and to ensure the safe environment needed, Shell has provided that aviation equipment to the operator. No safety stone is left unturned.

Stevens gave some insight in how the Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) are trying to drive helicopter safety. Stevens is also a member of the Executive Committee of the International Federation of Airworthiness and, among other jobs, he also sits on the UK’s CAA Helicopter Safety Research Committee. During his presentation, he summarized the less-than-stellar helicopter accident data and broke down what the OGP members have endured over the past years, much less the world wide operators.

Stevens talked about helicopter design requirements pertaining to most of the aircraft in service today. These are 30- to 40-year old design standards and are lacking in safety design requirements. A factory new Sikorsky S-76 is manufactured under the same grandfathered standards used in the mid-seventies. There have been some add-on safety features such as crashworthy fuel tanks that may be available, but are not part of the original design standards. Shell and OGP want to move away from the old and replace their helicopters operating in high-exposure areas (offshore) with newer models like the S-92 and AgustaWestland AW139. This will be a contract requirement for 2012.

Stevens echoed the cry heard throughout the summit of reaching a goal of zero accidents that would mirror the same accident rate enjoyed by our major airlines, hopefully within 10 years.

Other sessions by different speakers emphasized the need for more technology on the aircraft such as FMS, HUMS, CAS, paperless cockpits and TAWS in some cases.

There is a need for an increase in simulator training. The Level 6 units now on the market are state of the art with 220-degree vision from the pilot’s seat plus an operator console in the back. It’s even possible to teach a student to hover in one.

In an interview with Rotor & Wing, Greg Wyght said he hoped attendees would take away practical safety/management tools from the summit, such as safety checklists that were made available in several sessions. He feels strongly that the major helicopter companies, especially the ones who fly for OGP customers, will reach an airline safety plateau of zero accidents in less than 10 years. It will take the smaller operators longer to achieve these goals but hopefully, the large operators will create a path for them to follow.

Wyght went on to say helicopter operators need to drastically change their business models and absorb safety practices despite hesitations—improved ways of training, increased pilot discipline, refined dispatch systems and new electronic aircraft systems that promote safety. Because they are pricey, it will take more time for operators to acquire this equipment due to the economic impact. This is especially true for small operators.

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