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Be Careful: One Safe Act Could Lead to Another

Kansas City. Check!
Next Up: Prescott

On July 20, we held our monthly Safety Stand-Down in Kansas City, MO, and spent the day talking about helicopter safety with the pilots, maintainers, and managers of small helicopter operators in the region. In addition to the FAA and HSA staff, we heard from Bruce Webb of Airbus Helicopters, Tom Baldwin of Air Evac Lifeteam, and Clyde Ehrhardt of Ehrhardt Aviation Agency.

The event was hosted at the facilities of the Aviation Institute of Maintenance – Kansas City. Attendees had an opportunity to tour the hangar and classrooms AIM is using to produce the next generation of aircraft maintenance providers. The maintenance folks spent the afternoon with Bill Hopper, learning about the Dirty Dozen.

Attendees Greg Bourdon (pilot) and Paul Stokes (photojournalist) had a great excuse to leave early: a call to duty. Greg flies a news helicopter operated by KCTV and KSHB TV stations, and the pair were called out to report on the duck boat tragedy in Branson, Missouri.

Our next Stand-Down in Prescott, AZ, will be king-sized. HSA, the FAASTeam, and the US Helicopter Safety Team are holding a three-day event at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The USHST kicks off their two-day annual meeting on August 7 and 8; registration is free and the public is invited.

The meeting will feature industry and government helicopter experts discussing the current state of industry safety. Team members will present safety enhancement and outreach initiatives that are vital to reducing the fatal accident rate in this country.

On August 9, the HSA will hold a Stand-Down for helicopter pilots, maintainers, and operators in the Prescott area. Our agenda will feature some of our regular supporters, such as Bill Hopper of Heli-Sat and Bruce Webb of Airbus, and some heavy-hitters from the USHST who will be discussing the real problems facing small helicopter operators. Attendees will take home some valuable safety enhancements that can be used immediately in their daily routine.

See you (or maybe a friend of yours) there!

Bill Hopper of Heli-Sat (third from left in the red shirt), a frequent HSA Stand-Down speaker and expert in aviation maintenance, poses with some of his fans in Kansas City.

Tired Much?

In my formative years in aviation, I flew the aircraft, wrote up the discrepancies, gave them to the mechanic, he fixed it, and I went out to fly again. This was repeated 24/7/365. I never gave much thought about what the mechanic had to do to accomplish that magic: when he would start, how much time the job would take, and whether he needed rest.

Gee, when you write it out like that, being a mechanic could really suck. Add to that the huge margin for error that every mechanic has (0.00%) and this sounds like less and less fun.

What, the hard-charging young mechanic asks, should I do when I'm tired? Protect yourself!!

What a good manager knows is that the operation is much more dependent on the mechanic than the pilot. Good managers realize it is important to protect the mechanic: provide a good work space with plenty of light, warmth, and air conditioning (or at least a fan or a good space heater), and a reasonable work day. And if your manager is not-so-good, help him realize that tired mechanics are NOT good for his bottom line.

Let the people you work for know that you are not capable of 24/7 performance. They shouldn't expect it and they shouldn't ask for it. While we all realize that a lot of helicopter maintenance is unscheduled, the more you can schedule, the better. (That's why it's called managing.)

Know your limits. Even though there is no regulatory time limit for helicopter maintenance, when you are going into your 13th hour on the job or after you have dropped the same tool for the second time, WARNING, WARNING. You are now more tired than alert, and you will begin to make more mistakes than correct decisions.

Coffee won't help, Monster won't help, gallons of Mountain Dew won't help. Instead, treat the problem directly: get some rest. Sleep WILL help.

If it's a short time until you finish your job, take a 30-minute nap. Mark where you stopped work, then go back three steps when you start again. Or have somebody check your work, tell them exactly what to look for and have them show you what they see. Protect yourself!! If you feel that your work environment won't support actions like these, MOVE.

Finally, the most dangerous time for tired mechanics is the drive home. If you are overtired, get some rest before you start. Pull over if you get the head bobs or your hands fall off the steering wheel. Protect yourself!!
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Did You Perform the Preflight -- Or Just Attend the Ceremony?

When I used to preflight a BK117 that I truly loved in Cleveland (N7060P or "60 Pop" was its working call sign), winters were an issue. It was so cold that for the first 10 minutes of the preflight, you were afraid you'd die -- and it was so cold that for the last 10 minutes, you were afraid you wouldn't. You could easily lose sight of the true purpose of a good preflight -- to discover aircraft issues that left uncorrected could injure/kill you and your passengers or damage your beloved aircraft.

A good preflight is one of the first essentials of flying safely. If your preflight is just a stroll around the aircraft, looking for random "things" that look "out of place," -- that is a flashing red light that you need to improve your process.

Most aircraft have a specific description of the items that should be inspected and the correct way to inspect them. Where do you think the primary source of preflight information is located? If you said your aircraft's Rotorcraft Flight Manual (RFM), give yourself a gold star. Then open it, sit down, and start reading.

You'll notice as you read the directions that you might want to take some notes. Go ahead. Just the act of taking notes will help you to remember. Later, you can refer to your notes to make sure you are doing it right.

A great secondary source about preflight is your mechanic. He knows how the individual systems of the aircraft are related and how they should interact. Most mechanics will grudgingly instruct a pilot on the proper way to inspect the ship because it reduces the chance that the pilot will unintentionally damage it.

Now that you have access to this information, use it. Preflight carefully in the same way, in the same order, every time. Make sure everyone understands that your preflight time is a "Do Not Disturb" time. If you get interrupted, take the time to be reasonably unpleasant to the person who disturbed you, AND THEN, START AGAIN FROM THE BEGINNING and complete the preflight.

Don't worry, you won't freeze to death ... probably.

Safety Meeting Outline: Do We Have an Effective Safety Culture?

Those of us who work in helicopter aviation have to meet specific safety requirements, either imposed by regulation or set down in our company's policies. But a policy manual –  even a really good one – is not a safety culture. Actually, you need the culture even more than you need the manual.

An effective safety culture is the mind-set and attitude toward safety that is demonstrated by the behavior of the management and staff of an operation. Building a positive safety culture is essential to fighting complacency – the root cause of many accidents and incidents. This is why an effective safety culture is so important. It is the reason WHY everybody follows the policy manual.

Key aspects of an effective safety culture are:
  • Good Communication – In a positive culture, safety is seen as a joint exercise by ALL members of the team. Questions about safety are an accepted part of every-day work conversations.
  • Just Culture – If you want people to talk – really talk  –  about safety, they have to be able to report mistakes and errors. Unless it was an intentional abuse of company policy, the focus is on preventing the error in the future, not punishment.
  • Visible Management Commitment – Company management must DEMONSTRATE active support for the safety culture. Managers must lead by example by embracing good communication and a just culture. Otherwise they are just wasting their time and everyone else's.
An effective safety culture is an ongoing discussion about safety with the entire company team of owner/operators, managers, pilots, maintainers, and other company personnel.

Today, in your safety meeting, you can start that conversation. Here are some questions to get everyone thinking: What's our process for reporting hazards? Does it work as well as it could? Are we able to report errors our own or someone else's without fear of reprisal?

Good luck!

Additional Resources
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Our most recent show was held at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance - Kansas City on July 20. AIM Executive Director Adrian Rothrock (above left) and Janie Foster of AirEvac LifeTeam (above right in blue shirt) welcomed Stand-Down attendees.

August 9: Prescott Regional Helicopter Safety Stand-Down
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