Helicopter Pilots – the Final Safety Gate
Generally, accidents are not the result of any one single event, but the product of several. My view is that every flight must pass through several gates in sequential order for the accident to happen — the final gate being the pilot. Logically, we as pilots have the final opportunity to prevent an accident.
A flight cannot occur or continue without the pilot. Last time I checked, pilots are the ones that push the start button and lift the collective. Like it or not, in all material respects, the pilot shoulders the final responsibility and authority for each flight.
Of course, pilots do not operate in a sterile vacuum, and there are outside influences. Some are positive, such as risk assessment/ decision making procedures, safety management systems, technology, and equipment to name a few. Some are negative, such as real or perceived company/ customer pressures, economic factors, competition, or self induced fears of job loss, self image, critical mission focus, and all the things we humans think about.
So what are we to do when the realities of life are upon us? Consider this; if we as pilots truly want to positively affect our environment and ensure safety of flight, we must never forget a flight cannot start, or continue, without passing through us, the final safety gate.
On a daily basis it means pilots must make safety decisions upon aeronautical factors and the current operational situation only, absent other influences. Do you really want to say, “I had an accident or incident because the boss or customer made me do it, or the company should have provided me with the proper aircraft and equipment?” I hope this is not the case and you fully accept the responsibility and obligation you assume as pilot in command, and not look to blame others or the lack of equipment. If you cannot do it safely, do not fly.
Having flown varied missions and managed numerous operations over the past 40 years I know what it is like to have someone question your ability and decision to not fly. Yes, even to the point of yelling at you while threatening your job or organization. I also know it is difficult to hold firm on your decisions when other pilots or operators will take the flight.
No, I am not naïve to the real world considerations that are present. Yes, you could be exposed to criticism, or negative effects on your job or company etc. However, in my mind the actual reality check is this; if you succumb to this line of thinking and pressure, your actions could result in the injury or death of others and yourself. Personally, I would rather be unemployed, although alive and having dinner with my family. Nor would I like to explain to the family of another why their loved one will not be coming home due to my actions.
To the helicopter owner/operators I respectfully request the following; ensure that you provide a supportive and just safety culture for your pilots to operate within. Provide them with the necessary training, equipment, and guidance to safely carry out their duties and responsibilities. Provide the pilots with a non punitive safety input system to management. After all, who knows the flight operation problems better than the pilots, they experience them daily.
Understand the fact that respective of all the safety initiatives you put in place, every flight you conduct must always pass through the final safety gate, your pilots. So goes the final outcome of the flight. As an industry we have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, relieved suffering, and enhanced society for the greater good. But we must come to the realization that we cannot fulfill every flight request. We will not save every life, nor fly every tourist or personal use flight, put out every fire, cover every news story, or perform the hundreds of missions we mostly excel at. Collectively, we must acknowledge that No, Cannot, and Will Not, are acceptable responses to certain flight requests.
However, for those flights we do accept, we must strive to ensure they are all performed to the highest level of safety, and to bring everyone home, every time.
That is my story, and I am sticking to it. What are your thoughts — I sincerely want to know. Whether you agree or disagree, email me at TAILROTOR@AOL.COM, and let me know what is going on in your world. As always have a Safe Flight and Fly Neighborly.
Matt Zuccaro is President of HAI.
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