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Quotes from Safety & Training, June 8

By Compiled by Andrew Parker, Managing Editor | August 1, 2010
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Quotes from Wednesday, June 9

Keynote speech from Randy Babbitt, FAA Administrator:

On Safety:


“Finding ways to improve pilot decision-making, better training, better access to helicopter simulators, adopting safety management practices and improving maintenance practice—all of these things put together add up to a safer operating environment.”

“The safety record of this industry is absolutely headed in the right direction. … But when we’re headed in the right direction, that phrase in and of itself is not good enough. We need to keep moving in that direction, and that takes renewed focus time and time again. We’re never close enough with safety.”

“Helicopters are operating in situations where no other vehicles can go. When you’ve exhausted all the other possibilities [and] when all the other options are gone, now comes the helicopter. So by definition it’s a challenging environment.”

“In safety, good enough is never good enough. Greatness is our target here.”

On Helicopter Accidents:

“We’ve got to find better ways to anticipate our accidents, rather that having accident investigations that will reveal something that should or could have been changed over time.”

“The helicopter industry has a great story to tell and that story, especially over the last few years—we have a knee-jerk tendency toward headlines. … If you think about our overall safety records, they’re remarkable, but they do attract a lot of attention. But despite the number of highly visible accidents over the past five years, fatal helicopter accidents have decreased by 22 percent compared to the preceding five years. But more important, the fatal accident rate has decreased by 40 percent.”

“This industry is full of dedicated men and women who want to complete the mission, no matter what the weather or the conditions—they want to make that rescue, they want to transport that patient, they want to get that person to the emergency room. In intense moments like this, you cannot let that drive overwhelm your sense of knowing what the right thing to do is. It doesn’t make more sense to put more people in harm’s way to save one, and the answer to that is no, it does not.”

“While I appreciate the passion that drives people to want to do good, we have to have the discipline to say, ‘I know it’s a terrible situation, but I’m not going to risk more people, and I know where that line is.” That’s a hard line to follow, it’s a hard line to define and it’s a hard line to live up to, and I appreciate it.”

“Many of these missions require low-level, VFR flight, flight that’s complicated by challenging environments. Low-level flight does not always offer an envelope of enough altitude and speed to ensure a safe landing if anything goes wrong. You encounter more obstacles and more traffic at low levels—again, that’s where you’re operating, and by definition, that’s where the traffic is an that’s where the obstacles are.”

On automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B):

“The Gulf is a huge success story for ADS-B. The success that we’ve enjoyed out there, to put it into perspective, we are covering 250,000 square miles with the equivalent of full radar coverage, complete radar identification tracking, the autopilots that have ADS-B In can see other aircraft, we can fly direct now, we know where everybody is—it’s a huge step forward”

“There’s a business case, and this is one of the things we go right past. We know it’s safer, we know it’s better, we can navigate, we can surveil, we can separate—we can do all of these things better, but there’s a business case behind [ADS-B]. Each one of these helicopters is saving almost 100 pounds of fuel per flight, saving about 10 minutes of flying time per flight. That adds up to around 20,000 pounds of fuel we’re saving each month. That’s almost a quarter of a million pounds of fuel on an annualized basis. That’s a lot of fuel. That’s a lot of savings.”

“This [ADS-B] equipment has the ability—this is just the beginning—to save a lot of money, and at the same time, make our operations significantly safer for everybody involved, whether it’s us providing surveillance from the FAA side, or the operators and pilots having much better situational awareness of where they are, and being able to utilize direct routes.


“The helicopter community deserves a real great amount of credit for pushing the safety needle as far as you have. [This industry] has been very active in the International Helicopter Safety Team, which is doing for helicopters what CAST, or the Commercial Aviation Safety Team, did for the airlines.”

“On another front, I'm pleased with our regulatory efforts, particularly in the air tour industry and in helicopter EMS. The fatal accident rates for air tour operators in Hawaii is down by more than half since the air tour rule went into effect. Even a casual review of accidents before and after that rule has to be hailed a success. Despite all this, we still face some challenges. HEMS operations suffered a spike of accidents back in 2008. The good news is we have a much better understanding today of the risks, and even more importantly, that they are, in fact, manageable. That’s a key point.”

Transcript of Babbitt’s speech at

Tuesday, June 8:

Immanuel Barshi, NASA senior principal investigator for human-systems integration:

“The important thing to remember about the accidents and incidents that do happen, that we can learn from, is that it really is all human factors. A good friend of mine was killed when a main rotor blade in a CH-53 separated. Nine other people were killed. It was not a pilot error, but it was still human factors. And in a sense, it’s redundant to say, because rotor blades don’t make mistakes. [When] equipment fails it not the equipment’s ‘fault,’ it’s either a human that didn’t design it right, or a human that didn’t build it right, or a human that didn’t maintain it right, or operate it right. It’s always human factors.”

“We’ve all seen pictures and headlines in newspapers and on TV of helicopter crashes, and we’ve read incident reports and accident reports and all that. Some people say, ‘How stupid, this could never happen to me.’ Some people who are a little more honest with themselves [do not have this attitude]. It’s really easy to distance ourselves from the stupid things, and say, it’s not me, but that’s not helpful.”

“How many people operate at 100 percent all the time? By definition, half of your time you are performing below your average. And if you’ve been around flying long enough, I’m sure you’ve walked away from flights where you said, ‘I should not have flown, I should not have taken that flight.’ It’s really useful to be lucky, but it’s hard to control.”

Fred Brisbois, director of aviation and product safety for Sikorsky Aircraft and director, IHST Executive Committee:

“If we take five pilots and put them in a room and ask for an opinion, we’re going to get six different opinions. It happens all the time. In the end, it’s about bringing people home. There is no reason, with the probability of success on helicopter missions, to be any different in terms of everybody coming home, than a 747 taking off from La Guardia flying to Chicago. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do [with IHST].”

“My experience shows that when we lose a crew because of weather, the weather’s gone and we usually bury them on a sunny day.”

Christian Gadbois, owner, SRT Helicopters:

“My first stage check [at the University of North Dakota] was a pre-solo stage check—pre-solo, rated pilot already. It couldn’t have gone worse. Weather is probably my big thing right now, probably because of the stage check—I had my ass handed to me on weather. We had one of those unusual North Dakota days where it’s crappy weather, and we were sitting in front of—at UND, there’s a huge conference room and that’s where your stage checks are done. And it started off with, ‘Hey, the beacon light is on outside, what’s does that mean? Field’s below VFR minimums.’ That’s about as good as it went the rest of the stage check. Surface analysis, area forecasts, when do they come out—you couldn’t have asked for a worse day.”

“One of the things we’ve done to make a better pilot, when I have guys coming to my place looking for jobs, traditionally everybody I see is miserable on weather. They say ‘We don’t operate in that environment’ and I say well that’s great, how are you going to get from Bakersfield to LA? It’s an 8,000, 9,000-foot climb. You now have winds aloft you have to deal with, and those winds aloft are not really winds aloft, they’re local mountain winds. There are a lot of things as pilots we don’t take into consideration. To me, weather is a situational awareness tool.”

“The other thing that we do different that’s a little bit controversial within the community is we encourage people to get their fixed-wing ratings. They get their private helicopter first, they flip over to the airplane, they do their private airplane add-on, from there they do their instrument training. Yes, it’s not helicopter time but I guarantee you when they’re back in the helicopter, when we put them in actual instrument conditions in a twin-engine aircraft on a ferry flight or something, is a no-brainer for them.”

“They’ve been in the suit, they’ve experienced that ‘Oh my this is scary’ for the first time, it’s not a new thing for them. Their radio skills are 10 times better, their situational awareness is much better, they understand the environment. What are we told? Helicopters have to stay out of the way of fixed-wing traffic. If you know where the fixed-wing guys are going to be it makes life a lot easier. We’ve seen a huge increase on their instrument skills, their competency and abilities in IFR.”

Cass Howell, dean of aviation for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University:

“At our crash lab, there are a lot of things you can learn about what not to do, when you look at mistakes people have made. We’ve had the opportunity to send people through this unique device, which is a collection of about a dozen real-world accidents recreated, laid out in the desert as they fell to Earth. So you can learn a great deal from that, to include from the helicopter side as well.”

“One of the disadvantages of putting people in the university environment—not really a disadvantage perhaps, depending on where you’re sitting—is that sometimes they change their minds. Sometimes they decide, ‘Hey, I found something else that interests me more that what I thought I wanted to be. And we have that happen all the time. That’s good in that we want them to make that decision early rather than later. We don’t want them to invest $60,000 in a helicopter training program only to find out within a short period of time that this is not for me. I found something else that interests me more. We like to say we train for skills and we educate for professionalism.”

Gordon Jiroux, president, Universal Helicopters:

“In six to 18 months, we have to make a person that shows up in our office not only a qualified pilot, but pretty much an expert in teaching. What now can be done with a four-year degree—if someone decides to be a schoolteacher and then last-minute turns into a helicopter pilot, that would be the ideal situation for us.”

“But we don’t have that, we’re never presented with that. … So what we’ve had to do is develop a program that allowed us to make pilots educators, because in our environment, the first job they’re going to get is as a flight instructor. So we have brand new pilots with almost no education background becoming teachers, and to teach zero-time pilots. And that’s a very difficult platform to operate under. Considering that they just learned their technique and they just learned their new craft, and the day they learn it they have to go out and teach it, that’s very difficult.”

“Over the last 10 years, I’ve kind of changed my philosophy. My recommendation is that we have a mentoring program, where we don’t just take a brand new flight instructor and turn him loose with a brand new student. In our program, we take a brand new flight instructor, and we give that flight instructor an instrument student. We do that for two reasons—one, we have a tier system on what maneuvers we allow our instructors to teach under. A brand new instructor cannot teach straight in autorotations, 180 rotations, things that may cause trouble with a new student. The other thing we found is that brand new CFIs have the hardest time retaining the instrument portion of their training. So by giving them a new instrument student, that gets them comfortable in the aircraft as a flight instructor, and second, it allows them to perfect a craft and the most difficult thing to retain, which is the instrument flying, as well as the instrument instructor flying.”

“Picture a doctor who just finished school to become a surgeon, and his very first job is in the emergency center trauma department. Sometimes that’s what I feel a new CFI is expected to do, and we really need to look at that and try to stay away from that approach.”

Mark Mestre, aviation safety manager and pilot, U.S. Army:

On Flying in Alaska and getting into IIMC:
“The rest of the crew knew what was happening and I knew that, based on the weather, we were going to have to go VFR at some point to actually get to this village. What surprised me most was watching the look on her face, in that she never even recognized that she had gone inadvertent IMC. She was convinced that she still had visual on the horizon out there. She didn’t get nervous until I told her, ‘just level the wings and climb,’ and then she started getting nervous. And I said, ‘You shouldn’t be nervous, we’re in the clouds and have been for about 20 seconds now.’ So if you’re prepared for it and you have procedures in place, it’s not that critical and it’s something that everybody should survive.”

Matt Murphey, Texas Department of Public Safety:

“We’ve had a huge transition the last three to four years at DPS, we’ve gone from eight duty stations, seven helicopters and seven airplanes to 14 duty stations, 14 helicopters and nine airplanes, from 27 people up to about 60 people. Five of those helicopters are assigned to border patrol missions.”

“About 10 years ago we had an accident, and nobody was injured but it totaled a Jet Ranger. And everything seems to be drawn on accidents and accident prevention. Subsequent to that, as a lot of people do once they have an accident, we stopped doing autorotations in our own aircraft. Our training has really progressed. Can you imagine bring in 18 guys, all of which are rated in something, but now we need to get you trained in the span of six months? So it’s been a monumental task in the past 36 months to acquire these aircraft, get them spec’ed, and get lower-time guys in the aircraft safely.”

“Everybody’s talked about minimums, but our official stance at our agency is we give you a circle to operate in, and that circle could be [small] if you’re a 400-, 500-hour guy, if you’re a 4,000 or 5,000-hour guy, your circle is [much larger]. Don’t get out of your circle, and if you do get out of your circle, there are obviously consequences. It could be a slap on the hand, or like others commented a cup of coffee with a butt-chewing in order, it could be a grounding or back to the highway patrol and working the road.”

BJ Raysor, director of operations for Arkansas Children’s Hospital and IHST member:

“We need to take it upon ourselves and commit ourselves—every one of us—to try and do what we can as individuals and as operations, to reduce those accidents. Every time we have an accident the public loses confidence, our insurance rate goes up, the liability cost of an aircraft goes up, which affects the purchase/acquisition cost. So every time, just because—and my own pilots have said ‘we do it better that that, we’re not flying that way, we’re not flying in that weather, we’re not doing this.’ But the other guys are, and when they have an accident, it still impacts us negatively. So everybody’s accident is our accident, and I hope you’ll commit yourself to do what you can to help reduce those.”

Tim Rolfe, Bristow European Ops chief training captain for the Sikorsky S-92:

“What we have to do as an organization is define what our acceptable risk level is. Having determined that, we really need to go ahead and identify hazards that can present themselves to us in our daily operations. … Our job is to manage risk to an acceptable level, and that’s largely done through the training side of any organization. We have to set and modify existing procedures to mitigate against the risks we have identified.”

“Working for an organization now that has an active safety culture, and a system of processes that allow pilots to identify those hazards, risk-assess those hazards and then put procedures in place—I’m totally sold on the SMS idea. It is entirely necessary to have a very active safety culture at the center of your SMS, it’s not good enough to just have the processes in place.”

“Who does need an SMS? I’m going to say we all do.”

“You’ve got to have buy-in at all levels, from the CEO to the guy that sweeping the hangar floor. We need to educate everybody.”

“If a pilot actually saves the day—despite the fact that he’s using poorly put together standard operating procedures, a checklist with errors in it, just faces some bad luck or finds himself in a situation where the [weather] forecast has been inaccurate—but he saves the day, how do we describe the pilot? The pilot could absolutely be the hero, so there’s a dichotomy. The pilot could be he bad guy, but the pilot could also be in control of the heroic outcome. And we need to take that into account when we address the human factors risks that are presented to us in the cockpit.”

Randy Sharp, flight training department manager for California Shock Trauma Air Rescue (Calstar):

“What would be the most important thing to discuss about inadvertent IMC? I would highly recommend prevention. If you can prevent it from happening, you’re probably going to have a lot better outcomes.”

“In EMS, inadvertent entry into IMC is probably the most common factor we have, that’s why we put a lot of stress and training in that area.”

“You must factor in all the sources together and ask yourself: Can we really accomplish this mission? Am I going to put our crew in harm’s way to go out and do that two in the morning flight to pick up somebody that could be transported via an ambulance?

“We really want to prevent inadvertent IMC. A circle of visibility will help with prevention, which is our priority. During that process, you want to acquire all the knowledge and conditions that would lead to inadvertent. If you know the things that can get you there, you can probably figure out pretty quick that you don’t want to take that flight. And then if it does happen, we teach all our pilots on how to safely recover.”

Scott Tish, Air Methods aviation training manager for the northeast region:

“First step: you have to admit to yourself that you’ve made this error and you’re in the clouds. Control the aircraft, climb, stay on course, communicate with ATC and comply with any of their instructions.”

“Situational awareness—watch and accept the weather. When it gets bad, turn around. Avoid over-confidence and any social pressures. Organize, organize, organize. Sloppy pilots do not do well in double IMC conditions, or in IMC conditions, or even in VMC conditions. If you’re scrounging around the aircraft trying to find a chart, you’re not flying the aircraft.”

“Sound decision-making skills—train to survive. If you have an opportunity to train, go out and take it. And staying on the field is an acceptable alternative. It all rests on good training and good decision-making.”

Quotes from Wednesday, June 9

Rotor & Wing Safety and Training Channel

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