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By Staff Writer | April 1, 2016

Have We Failed?

This is in response to your cover story on the International Helicopter Safety Team ( “After 10 Years, Have We Failed?” February 2016, page 32).

After 24 years flying helicopters, I was pushed out of a company for predicting an accident two years before it occurred. The reason I was to be fired, my manager at the time said, was that I “need some mental health counseling.” I resigned first. Since then, many more fines have been levied on the company for flights over water without proper flotation devices onboard.

I also tried to “land the damn helicopter” in a simulator training session, but was told that it “is not in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommended flight manual.” (Continued flight with the failure involved was proven incorrect in a lethal S-92 accident in Nova Scotia.) I asked who was in charge of the flight and who had final say on all matters related to it. The pilot in command, right? Not always, so it would appear.

One company I worked for was so proud to be at Level Five of the FAA safety management system (SMS); it has never even implemented phase one to the base level for said SMS.

Training was cut at another company due to costs. You had one chance to do an annual flight review without any training (ground or flight) during the previous year. Once, I refused to fly the aircraft for mechanical reasons and was given an unsatisfactory flight review. That went on my record at the FAA. I had three major in-flight emergencies just before I quit flying; all three were maintenance-related failures. I even refused to fly a spare aircraft with 103 known discrepancies that had been pencil-whipped.

I have not turned a rotor blade in five years. I miss flying; it was my dream to fly helicopters since I was a kid. I am alive by the grace of God and by having quit before I became a statistic. Our system is very broken, even after 10 years trying to reduce accidents and the implementation of a sad safety management system.

Name Withheld Upon Request

People across the globe are working to find and decrease the accident rate in helicopter flying. The answer seems to be totally in training pilots to think while flying.

Accidents will always happen. Helicopters fly missions that are inherently dangerous. There are off-site landings, long line work, cable inspection, landing on oil platforms and rooftops and pressure to “complete” the mission.

We need to somehow get into all pilots’ heads while they are flying. Total concentration needs to be on the flight.

Unfortunately, that will never happen. We can only hope more intense training about the mental aspect of flight will help. Start in early ground school and continue in all further training. Put as much emphasis on the physiological aspect of a flight as the mechanical aspects. We can all do an autorotation and know what to do in the case of a mechanical failure, but can we handle the pressure of “completing” the mission.

We all think we are the hottest pilot in the air—are we really?

Flights need to be turned down; landing in a field to wait out the storm or fog has to be an option to every pilot. We are not superhumans; we all have something that occupies our mind in flight. All pilots need to keep their heads in the flight and their eyes outside the aircraft. The big question is, is there a way to train this attitude?

Andrew S. Fennel
Chief Pilot, Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
Deltona,  Florida
Commercial Rotorcraft, Single Engine Land, Instrument Rating

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