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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Enhancing Safety and Professionalism

By Keith Cianfrani

I had the pleasure of attending the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC) seminar in September last year in Mahwah, N.J. and enjoyed spending time with the council’s President, Jeff Smith, and HAI’s Safety Director Stan Rose. The first several sessions were focused around employment in the rotary wing industry. Attending were young pilots looking to get that “perfect” flying job and a few more experienced pilots trying to back into the cockpit.

Smith spoke on the state of the industry and explained what the ERHC is and what they do. He explained that local helicopter pilots who were interested in the availability of IFR flight for rotorcraft started the organization in 1977. Their ad hoc meetings in New York City, using the initial name of Northeast Helicopter Operator Council (NEHOC), were the initial step in forming the eastern seaboard’s first locally organized aviation group to represent helicopters. After the charter member pilots realized their success in joining together with respect to the IFR issue, they incorporated in 1979, renaming the non-profit organization Eastern Region Helicopter Council, Inc. to represent their interests in aviation.

ERHC has always had an active community outreach program to address the concerns of residents, relating to helicopter and heliport issues. In 1982, the ERHC was awarded the first-ever Fly Neighborly Award from HAI, and is featured as an example in the Fly Neighborly Guide. ERHC is an affiliate member of HAI and NBAA. Since 2007, the group has strengthened its bonds with other local aviation groups, such as the Mid-Atlantic Pilots Association (MAPA), Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition (MAAC), Long Island Business Aviation Association (LIBAA), and New Jersey Aviation Association (NJAA). The council meets five times yearly. Its first priority always has been, and remains—safety. Since 1977, ERHC has promoted communication among local-elected officials, FAA, the public and the region’s helicopter operators to enhance safety, professionalism, efficiency and community compatibility. Following Smith’s presentation, the chief pilot of Liberty Helicopters, Paul Tramontana, gave an update regarding sightseeing along the Hudson River and how they’ve adjusted to the new airspace limitations in the New York area. Liberty Helicopters is one of the major tour operators and hires low-time pilots to fly the river for several years before they are upgraded to other types of flying. Other companies flying in the area are Manhattan Helicopters, Zip Aviation and Helicopter Flight Services. The air tours operate under CFR 49, Part 136. There are three heliports in use, West 30th Street, East 34th Street Heliport, and the Downtown Heliport.

Rose presented several sessions on the “State of the Industry” and safety awareness. He spoke on the reasons why we crash aircraft and that these mishaps are all preventable. Shortly after his session, I had the opportunity to speak with Stan and we talked about many areas of safety in our industry. He went on to say that HAI is a lobbyist organization promoting safety and helicopter aviation worldwide while representing interests of owners, most of which have less than five aircraft. We discussed how HAI is working with ERHC to reduce accidents in the community by promoting aeronautical decision-making assessments, obtaining legal weather briefings, and reviewing safety “hot spots.” We discussed how pilots need to plan for all flight conditions on the ground prior to each flight. He believes every solution begins with each and every pilot.

Of course, we then talked about new CFIs and how many of them do not have the ideal cognitive skills and aeronautical experience, a topic I have written about several times. Rose went on to say how pilots are task overloaded and how risk management is not performed on all occasions, as there are limitations to see and avoid and how it is the responsibility of the PIC to manage the workload.

Rose finished our interview with mentioning what pilots need to know about the industry. He stated that 30 percent of the Vietnam Era pilots (many of which are approximately 65 years old) would retire, but because of the poor performance of their 401K plans, still need to work. Pilots must know their competition. With many of these pilots retiring in the next five years, there may be opportunities for employment.

Finally, the FAASafety Team conducted a seminar concerning areas of interest such as the ongoing work of IHST and how with PRIA a pilots training history will be tracked. In other words, if you fail a check ride, it stays on your record permanently. They also discussed that there is no evidence that twin-engine helicopters are safer than single-engine models and the need for LARS. Overall, it was a great event, featuring very professional presenters and and opportunity for operators and pilots to network. I was very glad the focus was on safety and risk management. Good job guys.

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