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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Public Service: Public Safety Notebook

Lee Benson

Educating the Entire Team

This year’s Heli-Expo was preceded by the Tangent Link wildland firefighting conference. Tangent Link is a British company and they ran a great conference. The attendance was considerable in terms of vendors and attendees. Attendees represented a wide sampling of people involved in wildland firefighting. The presentations were well suited to the questions at hand and the number of blatant commercials presented from the podium was kept to a minimum.

To beat these systems one must plan backward from the objective to the starting point.

Here’s an interesting comment forwarded by Erickson Air-Crane representatives: "Research into the future of the S-64 helicopter and what that might mean has begun". Items such as composite blades, different engines and upgraded airframes will be contemplated, but no decisions of what modifications or when have been made yet.

The second preconference area of interest to me was the first ever HAI management course presented for nonprofit operators. In the past, an area of concern for nonprofit operators attending this course was that perhaps 30 percent of the course was of limited value to them because of its absolutely mandatory emphasis on profit. As difficult as it is to turn profits in the helicopter industry, this shouldn’t take a lot of insight to understand. The new course has been structured to eliminate this concern. Captain Don Roby of Baltimore County Police Department was the principal course coordinator in this effort. Attendees included personnel from fire and police agencies, and from the Department of Defense. Captain Roby has indicated that the course was well received. The lessons learned from this first attempt include elimination of the section concerning mission and application. More attention will paid to budget planning and integrated command systems (ICS). Captain Roby also added that the most appreciated section of the course was marketing an air unit to the public. Several participants in the course had some very inventive ways of garnering support from the public. It’s not hard to understand with today’s economic climate, why this would be a focal point for the attendees.

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. was a contributing sponsor to this course and deserves a note of appreciation for its involvement. Congratulations also go to the individual departments that paid to send their people. Too often these departments forget that there is a very distinct set of tools needed to manage a flight department and that set of tools is not issued to their non-aviation managers because they went through the fire tower or police academy and now wear a gold star or bugle. The departments are making an investment in their people and their flight department that will return their investment many times over in the future.

Heli-Expo itself set another record for attendance and most of the people I dealt with were very positive in their outlook towards the helicopter industry’s short- to middle-term financial prospects. The lack of credit available to finance new aircraft acquisitions and possible tightening of budgets for state and local governments would be the two things that might endanger the helicopter industry’s immediate growth. On the attendance side, it would be interesting to know the breakout of foreign versus North American attendees to the show. Several people commented to me that there seemed to be fewer folks from overseas in attendance.

The recent focus on accidents in the EMS market certainly was a point of conversation at Heli-Expo. Discounting my military service and an impromptu rescue or two while flying on commercial contracts, I flew my first EMS mission in May 1981 for Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. I have followed the commercial EMS world since that time and been involved in search and rescue until my retirement in 2007. The accident record for this segment of our industry has been inconsistent through the years.

I have participated in a few of the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) meetings. The IHST members are making personal sacrifices and a committed effort to generate a safer environment for EMS operations. Every pilot and nurse involved in EMS operations should send a note of thanks or a dozen donuts to the next IHST meeting. These people are trying to make sure you return to your family at the end of your shift.

I will say the current efforts of the IHST the FAA and others to find solutions to the EMS accident rate are intensive. But no amount of fancy electronic displays or night vision goggles will replace experienced, appropriate and mature electrical brain activity on the part of the pilot. More thoughts on this subject next time. Fly safe.

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