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Abstract

The idea of safety is not to paralyze, slow down or make difficult the activities surrounding the aviation industry. Safety measures, on the contrary, will improve efficiency, reliability, reduce fatalities and booster confidence in both the pilots and the passengers on board for a happier, more fulfilling and profitable aviation business.

This book report seeks to highlight some key areas that have to do with safety operations and safety management system, analyze some of the safety gaps in the BCC aviation line and offer plausible and economical medium and long term solutions to the challenges for a better and improved BCC operations.

Analysis

The BCC seemingly is teamed up with great pilots who enjoy what they do and are naturally gifted as pilots. That is a great incentive for the team as a whole. The team spirit exhibited in the working relations among the pilots and also between the BCC and helicopter engineers (Copter Doctors) is also a great incentive in the long run in terms of coordination and communication.

The challenges that BCC is facing can be subcategorized into these areas:

a) Work Safety Processes and Procedures

b) Flight operations safety procedures

c) Support system for pilots and staffing

d) Safe working environment

a) Work Safety Processes and Procedures

The BCC interoperability is tottering due to undefined work processes above and beyond manning the helicopters. One of the pilots admits that “standards are a bit relaxed coz everyone knows what needs to be done.” Pilots understand their work and therefore are likely to get it done with minimum or no supervision. The challenge with lack of structures to guide the work is that someone might assume that since everyone knows what is to be done some critical steps might be overlooked due to absence of due process.

The terms of contract for pilots do not seem spelled out especially where matters of flight hours allowed per pilot per period of time and the chronology of those man hours. In addition, holidays and sick leave days as part of work processes are not entrenched in the terms of contract and are therefore unenforceable as even Nick himself admits that “I can’t get these guys and gals to go home even when they are sick!”

There are instances where new pilots are given flight operations that are unchecked or unsupervised and procedurally speaking new pilots would require some level of orientation and supervised work operations for their own safety and the safety of others. Work processes and procedure stipulate how things are done, when they get done, who does them and where they are to be done. Processes and procedures bind people to acceptable safety mechanisms that not only keep them and others safe but also ensure stability and efficiency of work.

b) Flight operations safety procedures

The company lacks a clear training policy for its pilots. The selection criteria and vetting mechanism is also lacking and is largely dependent on what Nick considers as fit for training. “Except for causal once a year check rides there isn’t much training unless a pilot has an incident that comes to Nick’s attention.”

The helicopters are sometimes overloaded and that is an outright safety flop that could prove catastrophic at any time of the journey.

The helicopters’ state of repair is also unconvincing with such issues as lose doors and dangling cargo belts and unused safety belts while on a flight.

The company seems to have overlooked other safety operation procedures such as precautions for over-the-water flights where passengers are given simple life vests instead of opting for the more efficient and safer “pop-out” floats installed on the helicopters.

c) Support system for pilots and staffing

There seems to be a disconnect between the actual flight operations and the management support mechanisms for coordinating the company.

The company does not seem to have clear communication lines for important information.

The company also lacks a specific and specialized support staff that can coordinate important support functions such as: keeping a closer look at the weather constantly, radar for direct communication with pilots who are en-route, routine check on fueling stations, flights booked and up-to-date safety and travel information for pilots, passengers and mechanics.

Information flow is not only lacking but that even when the information is available very few staff pay attention to it.

The assertion that “Nick doesn’t have enough time to deal with flight operations” speaks of a lack of enough support staff to help coordinate the ‘detail’ duties that could keep the company operating smoothly. This is also confirmed when Nick appoints a pilot by training as a “line supervisor and dispatcher” who gets bored and goes back to piloting because he was not cut out for management.

The brief on BCC has not mentioned any medical cover for the pilots incase they are sick or even more importantly there are no routine medical check ups to ascertain their wellbeing and capacity to perform their duties safely.

There is no mention of an insurance policy for the BCC’s helicopters and possibly flight plans for passengers on board the helicopters. The lack of an insurance policy can attract serious lawsuits that could threaten the closure of the entire business should any eventuality arise.

d) Safe working environment

The pilots don’t seem to have a predictable, regular and deliberate rest between working hours and moreover sometimes they overwork themselves. This is evidenced by the revelation that “pilots work kind of a 10-hour shift …six even seven days a week” Absence of rest is a safety concern because exhaustion on the part of the pilot can lead to health problems that might compromise his/her work at unexpected times.

The working space, the ramp, is not only small but also overcrowded.

“…shares the ramp with the maintenance facility where mechanics are working on helicopters and doing test hops. What was once a large open space has now gotten really congested. There are no painted lines for set-down pads so Nick’s pilots’ just use common sense and good situational awareness.”

Even when Nick gets some expensive hardware fitted in the cockpit of some helicopters the pilots are unwilling to try them and this could be as a result of lack of orientation or lack of a sustained interest for it through managerial structures of the company.

Recommendations

Key steps towards creating a proactive safety program and Safety Management System (SMS) for BCC include the following:

  1. The pilots need to go through a regular skills check and acquire a certificate of clearance in accordance with set regulations and Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs)
  2. The pilots should also comply with medical requirements and clearance certificates so that their work is not only professional but that safety standards are complied with to avoid financially and health-draining eventualities. Pilots need comply with FARs Airman Medical Certificate, 2007
  3. Investing in maintenance and regular routine checks is key to have safer more reliable and less costly flights; inspection and maintenance should follow strict deadlines
  4. It is important to acknowledge that “Nick doesn’t tolerate drugs” and he warns the pilots that using drugs is grounds for losing their job. That is an important regulation that should be executed through a framework so that it should be put down on paper and tied to a pilot’s principles of work operations.
  5. There is need to follow cargo weight guidelines strictly so that any eventualities arising from overloading are curbed and that the plane operations are within the safety limit standards as stipulated.  

United Parcel Service (UPS) holds that:

“It is highly recommended that you conduct some type of package performance test to verify your air freight package can withstand the normal rigors of transportation and protect the product.” (UPS, 2005)

  1. Feedback is also a critical part of the work safety processes and procedures and it therefore needs to be put down in a structured way. Every department of BCC including partner teams such as the Copter Doctors, Weather Stations and Fuel Stations need to work in concert and stay in constant communication in order to relay feedback to all areas of the BCC for optimum performance.
  2. BCC needs an insurance cover for the pilots, the craft hardware, the business and also the on-board passengers in order to ensure safety guidelines are complied with and the company does not run into unsustainable losses in case of incidents and accidents. This can be done in phases to avoid serious unsustainable running costs where the most pressing insurance cover such as for pilots, the craft and on-board passengers are covered. The BCC can also consider low premium insurance tariffs for a start so that regulations are met without necessarily draining the company.
  3. BCC can also do with an elaborate support structure including communication and management departments that can handle traffic, information and dispatches as well as other administrative functions. This can also be done in phases to avoid financial drain. BCC can start out with a communication/administration arm and later branch out into fully fledged management departments that are specialized in nature.

The BCC has done well to have stand by pilots but more can be done in terms of rapid response initiatives and emergency response mechanisms incase of accidents and mechanical breakdowns. The company can use a level of technological input in this regard so that the machinery is fitted with hazard detection and response mechanisms that can alert and give the pilot options before fatalities. This, in the long term, should also be integrated with a wider response and override system connected to other centers such as the Copter Doctors and radar units on the ground. However, in the medium term, BCC can invest in a simple customized software and telecommunication system that allows for radio wiring and response over the airwaves to facilitate rapid response initiatives and emergency procedures.

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