By By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief | November 1, 2012
In early October Sikorsky Global Helicopters (SGH) invited Rotor & Wing to its commercial production facility in Coatesville, Pa. The site of the former Keystone Helicopter, which Sikorsky acquired in 2005, Coatesville houses the production of the S-92, the S-76D—which received an FAA type certificate on Oct. 12—the S-300C and airframe assembly for the CH-148 Canadian Maritime Helicopter. (See story on page 12.)
Since the drive to Coatesville was only a couple hours, and because my schedule was open—which is rare these days with a two-month-old baby at home—I decided to head north and get a first-hand look myself. From the outside, the Coatesville facility is pretty basic, just a series of office-type buildings along a stretch near Chester County Airport (MQS) in Pennsylvania. Inside is a dynamic helicopter production line that is preparing for further expansion. Dorith Hakim, general manager of SGH operations, led a tour of the Coatesville plant, which now includes a customer delivery center among other recent additions.
While at Coatesville, I met Richard Mintern, president and CEO of Bond Aviation Group, who was there for first acceptance of two baseline S-92s. Mintern was faced with a unique challenge in the second week of his new position back in May, as a Bond-operated EC225 was involved in a ditching incident in the North Sea. He initiated a “100-day safety plan” that just wrapped up in late September. Mintern explained that a total of 40 “change agents” across the company worked to address four key areas, including three “ongoing streams” of organization and leadership, systems and processes, and communications. “We had to demonstrate that we are interested, and make sure that what we’re saying is happening, is actually happening.”
Initially, “people were—I wouldn’t say skeptical, but they had different reactions, and they weren’t used to the change,” Mintern noted. “But when we went back a second and third time, and they realized that this was very sincere, and we mean what we’re trying to do, it’s satisfying to see the changes we’ve made in a short period.” People feel like they’ve “let the side down if they’ve not delivered,” he continued. “But if delivering that piece means that they’re putting additional risk into the business, then that’s what we have to manage very carefully.” Mintern estimated that Bond has invested around $2 to $3 million in “both people and systems” in the effort to improve safety awareness and safety management sysytem (SMS) programs across the company. When asked how he measures the results, Mintern replied that a head of one of the offshore oil companies asked him the same question about three months ago.
“One of them said to me, ‘All this sounds great, but how will you know whether you’re making a difference? How will you know that you’re getting there?’ So I couldn’t easily answer the question at that point, honestly, and spent a lot of time thinking about it and talking to other people.” After searching for answers, Mintern concluded that “some of these goals are measured around performance, tangible things, and some are soft targets. But we’ve experienced a two percent reduction in our on-time delivery. Is that good? Yes, because it means we’re not dispatching the aircraft as precisely as we were previously. We’ve doubled the number of occurrence reports—low-level items, but we’ve doubled the reports from May 9 until now, in terms of an average.”
Other examples of measurable results include a case where technicians noted a small deviation in a HUMS indication. According to standard procedure, Bond contacted the OEM immediately, and the response was that it was safe to fly and to monitor for 10 hours before issuing another report. “We decided that we felt there should be other barriers in place,” Mintern said. “We want to be in a place where if the guy’s uncomfortable, then we don’t go.” So the helicopter in question was taken out of service.
“It caused delays and inconvenienced people coming back after two weeks offshore,” Mintern continued, “but they took it to the hangar and replaced a small bearing with a total delay of 2-3 hours. It wouldn’t have been catastrophic, but actually we rewarded that team. Those three people have been congratulated and recognized.” He added: “Guess what the customer reaction was? Fantastic. No flight is too important to an oil and gas provider like that. They were really pleased and said they felt that we are going in the right direction. This is where safety should be going.”
Even with the circumstances leading up to the 100-day effort, Bond’s plan is important because it sets short-term, company-wide objectives for safety. It’s easy to think of safety as a long-term goal, but it needs to be considered a daily/all-the-time priority for each operation—what might be termed an Every Day Safety Plan.