As Industry Gathers in London, Texas Summits Lay Down Challenge

By James T. McKenna | September 29, 2017
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CHC Statoil

Photo courtesy of CHC

Many in the global helicopter industry will gather in London next week for the 31st Helitech International show.

Discussions among the exhibits at the ExCeL center there, and in sessions of the event’s associated seminars, will focus on big issues facing the industry, including improving flight safety and technological innovations supporting improvements in that area as well as in operational efficiency.


Two recent events in Texas helped lay the foundation for such ongoing discussions. R&WI’s Rotorcraft Business & Technology Summit, Sept. 20 and 21 in Fort Worth, delved into FAA organizational changes designed to help streamline more effective management of safety risks and technological advances (such as flight data management and predictive analytics) that can better enable safety and operational gains.

Last week, CHC Helicopter hosted its revived Safety & Quality Summit in Grapevine, Texas, just north of DFW International Airport, during which operational and safety experts from around the world delved into those and related topics. What had been an annual event (and one of the world’s foremost aviation safety forums) was interrupted last year by CHC’s U.S. bankruptcy case, from which it emerged as a reorganized company earlier this year.

CHC also is dealing with the aftermath of two fatal accidents in the past 17 months: the April 2016 crash of a CHC Helikopter Airbus Helicopters EC225LP in Norway that killed all 13 on board; and the crash this March of a Sikorsky S-92 flown for the Irish Coast Guard, which killed a crew of four.

In opening that event, the company’s 13th Safety and Quality Summit, CHC President and CEO Karl Fessenden noted the challenge facing his company, as well as the industry.

“We must be smarter about assessing, combatting and mitigating risk as a matter of sound business judgment,” he said.

“We have a moral duty to exceed minimum requirements,” Fessenden added, “to reach beyond what might be termed as the ‘good enough’ approach to safety management. I submit, and history recent and past, shows that many times, ‘good enough’ is simply not ‘good enough.’”

He also asserted that the company and the industry are committed to meeting that challenge.

Since CHC’s last summit in March 2015, “we have endured a number of accidents across the industry. Closer to home, my company continues to rebound from two tragic accidents. We’ve endured a lot of heartache and continue to undergo and see change in the way we collaborate on safety in our industry,” Fessenden said.

“One thing, though, has not changed,” he went on. “We, individually and collectively, are as passionate as ever about safety — driven by the desire to care for our colleagues, our families, our passengers, our customers, ourselves and our reputations.”

As one bit of evidence of that commitment, the CHC chief pointed to the attendance at the summit of more than 500 people from nearly 30 countries and scores of organizations “for the singular and noble purpose of reaffirming and advancing our industry’s collective commitment to safety.”

CHC relocated the summit this year from its traditional site in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Grapevine, near the company’s global headquarters in Irving, Texas. Fessenden said the change opened up “an extensive hub of aviation expertise including fixed-wing operators, aircraft manufacturers and aviation colleges.”

He noted that “our world, the aviation world, is a complex one. Whether it is offshore helicopters delivering passengers to small landing sites — often moving in three dimensions — or search-and-rescue operations in extreme weather conditions … our day-to-day operations present a perpetual barrage of complex scenarios that demand hazard identification and risk assessment and mitigation.”

To manage and mitigate those hazards, he said, operators need means of monitoring and measuring compliance with organizational expectations “so that those with accountability for safety — whether that be corporate or regulatory accountability — can be confident that the risk is truly being managed.

“But an effective safety culture must be just and fully communicated to everyone at risk, especially those on the front line.”

Fessenden acknowledged that compliance monitoring can be a contentious topic.

“Some see compliance monitoring as 'Big Brother is watching and ready to pounce.’ Without a doubt, compliance monitoring — any kind of oversight — must be done with suitable controls in place,” he said.

“Without compliance monitoring, it is impossible to get a true feel for what really happens on an average day,” he added. “Annual audits can’t capture the change and challenges that arise the other 364 days of the year. Likewise, a concern raised by a conscientious employee may come too late, though it would still be appreciated. Ongoing data collection and analysis are key to proactively identifying and mitigating risks.”

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