I read Terry Terrell’s column, “Another Groundhog Day,” on page 48 of the August 2013 edition of Rotor & Wing, and Mr. Terrell makes some very good points about making correct decisions. I totally agree with his assessment of what constitutes a superior pilot.
However, he uses the word “mission” six times in the article. I can understand, when discussing the history of HEMS, that it would be more than acceptable using the word mission.
The “We gotta go! Somebody is depending on us!” attitude was prevalent then but not now. A workable safety culture has been ingrained in every aspect of our Part 135 operations and is the foundation on which we safely perform our duties on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, the unwritten standard and accepted practice of calling a patient flight a “mission” continues throughout the HEMS industry and is fostered (indirectly) in this article when he continued to use mission to describe what we do.
The only way to change that mindset is to use the words “flight request” instead of “mission” when determining whether to accept or decline a call for patient transport.
One final thought... A flight request is a “Go/No Go” decision! We can go if we can safely get to the patient and then safely get that patient to the appropriate care facility. Otherwise, don’t go! There is no “Try,” as in “Let’s try it to see if we can make it.”
It’s far better to be on the ground wishing you had gone instead of being in the clouds wishing you hadn’t.
Base Line Pilot/Safety Representative
Mr. Terrell’s comparison of HEMS accidents to the movie Groundhog Day may allow him to feel a little pious but fails to address the reality of the statistical improvements in the HEMS accident rate per 100,000 hours flown since the 1980s.
I also believed that any expectations that HEMS Part 135 on demand operations should or could achieve a per 100,000 hours operation accident rate comparable with Part 121 scheduled air carrier accident rates creates an impossible goal.
Impossible-to-achieve goals are counter productive because the participants intuitively understand the unrealistic nature of the goal and therefore ignore the program as unachievable.
Some may respond that it is better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit. However, unachievable goals often result in not aiming at all.
Although steady progress in improving overall EMS helicopter safety statistics has been punctuated occasionally by setbacks over certain periods, usually those defining rapid growth within the industry, I do agree that the broad trends over the decades since the late 1970s have shown some measure of improvement when expressed as accidents per flight hour volume.
I also appreciate that upgrades in technologies and in operator safety cultures have contributed to better safety performance, and that replacement of an “essential mission” mindset with less insistent “flight request” conceptualization of the job at hand can be a useful device in constructively depressurizing pilots and crews, even though it must be acknowledged that meanings of terms can evolve over time, reflecting language inflation driven by cultural pressures.
My observation continues to be, though, that we continue far too often to see tragically familiar accident scenarios repeated over and over in our business, and that high-quality pilots, exhibiting reliably sound judgment and decision-making skills over long periods of service, have never been surpassed as the most leveraged element in the EMS aviation safety equation.
Safety Watch columnist
Rotor & Wing
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