Setting the Standard in Safety
Beijing Capital Helicopter: China’s First Accredited Helicopter Operation
By Jenna Scafuri
In the helicopter industry, safety is the first priority. But with so many different types of operators and missions, how can we ensure that there is an equivalent level of safety across the board?
The HAI Accreditation Program of Safety (HAI-APS) is one way helicopter operators can maintain a high standard of safety. In September 2017, Beijing Capital Helicopter (BCH) became the first accredited helicopter operation in China, as well as the first international operator to earn HAI accreditation.
An affiliate of Hainan Airlines Group (HNA), China’s fourth-largest airline, BCH offers charter flights, aerial tours, business transportation, aerial prospecting, and medical airlift via its fleet of Airbus helicopters, including four H125s and three H135s. One of China’s leading integrated helicopter service providers, BCH has expanded its Eurocopter-built rotorcraft inventory with the addition of a VIP-configured Airbus EC135 P2+ for passenger transport and tourism missions.
Since its creation in 2011, BCH’s commitment to safety and professionalism has led to further expansion of its rotary-wing services. The company now offers maintenance services to operators and a growing base of customers in the northern China region via its service center located within the Beijing Badaling Airport.
In September 2017, BCH became the first international operator to undergo an HAI-APS audit. Even though BCH already was operating at a high level of safety, company management recognized that there is always room for improvement. BCH was interested in being a leader in Chinese aviation as helicopter operations expanded, and saw HAI‑APS accreditation as an opportunity to set the standard in the industry. They were eager to become trendsetters in safety.
“We pursued accreditation to not only enhance our level of safety, but also to raise the standard of operations in China,” says Wang Lejun, BCH safety director. “HAI-APS helped us reach that goal. Through the audit process, we gained the tools we needed to succeed. This is a milestone for Chinese general aviation — we’re making history.”
BCH’s road to accreditation started with a phone call to HAI headquarters. Wang Xinyu, president of BCH, was interested in accreditation after a visit to HAI earlier in the year. From there, HAI Director of Safety Steve Sparks advised him of the necessary steps to become accredited, which included:
- Purchasing the IS-BAO and Helicopter Mission-Specific Standards (HMSS)
- Conducting a gap analysis
- Revising and developing existing policies to meet IS-BAO and HMSS standards
- Preparing for the audit by reviewing the audit questionnaire
- Undergoing the audit.
“One of the biggest challenges in the beginning of the process was the language barrier,” says Bill Payne, the auditor who conducted the BCH audit. In order to conduct an audit, all of BCH’s manuals first had to be translated into English.
While the translated manuals offered most of the required information, there were still times when clarification was needed. “However, I was very impressed with the BCH team’s command of the English language on-site,” Payne says. “Once we were there, everything went smoothly from a communications perspective.”
During the four days of BCH’s on-site audit, Sparks and Payne were impressed by the quality of its operations. Professionalism was evident in everything from its maintenance operation to its mentoring program — all of which exemplified BCH’s safety culture.
As the audit team walked into BCH’s facilities, housed on the 11th floor of HNA corporate headquarters in Beijing, it was clear that safety was ingrained in the culture of the entire organization. BCH’s helicopter operations are modeled after its airline parent company, HNA. BCH processes and procedures mirror a FAR Part 121 operation. With the backing of one of the largest airlines in the country, safety culture is a priority for BCH.
“Safety is very important to this company, and they take it seriously,” says Payne. The organizational structure reflected this. “There is a separate general safety manager who oversees the safety program, then safety managers in each of the various departments such as maintenance, and flight and operational control.”
But the safety managers are not the only ones driving the culture. “The safety management system [SMS] is well managed and fully embraced by all company employees,” says Payne. “Their employees are engaged in the reporting process. The department identifies five safety targets each year and strives to reach those goals.” All the employees Payne met were very involved in the SMS and eager to share their ideas and enthusiasm for the process.
BCH Safety Director Wang Lejun also has a maintenance background. This blend of experience is unique to this position, as safety directors are more commonly pilot or operations oriented. Payne and Sparks believe that Wang’s depth of experience in safety and maintenance contributed to BCH’s excellent performance in maintenance safety practices. Wang’s background is beneficial when it comes to safety and maintenance throughout the organization.
“It is obvious that BCH has spent the last two years conforming their maintenance program and practices to the requirements in the IS-BAO standard,” Payne says. “Their manuals are precise, complete, and well organized.” Sparks agreed, “BCH has a first-class maintenance record. They have really set the bar.”
As an authorized service center for Airbus, maintenance for both internal and external clients is an important part of BCH’s operation. The audit team was particularly impressed with BCH’s parts inventory control. “Documentation of the parts inventory was visibly impressive,” says Sparks. “BCH utilizes a robust tracking system for managing and controlling its parts inventory. Based on a check-and-balance approach, this system is very intuitive for helping maintenance personnel to accurately trace when and what parts are used, for ensuring quality control.”
Many helicopters in the BCH fleet are 2014 models. But even though they are a few years old, the auditors noted that they look brand new. “In particular, their emergency medical operation was pristine,” says Payne. “Their helicopters were immaculately maintained, and the facility was well organized and capable of handling a variety of emergency situations.”
BCH recognizes the importance of investing in and training its younger generation of pilots. Through its mentoring program, experienced pilots are matched with less experienced pilots during training for a more personal learning experience. “I was impressed with the way everyone worked together and learned from each other,” says Sparks. “It’s a great opportunity for the pilots with more hours on the job to impart practical wisdom to those with fewer hours.”
“At first, I was surprised to see that a lot of the staff were younger, which is different from many operations in the United States,” Payne says. But it became clear that the mentoring system bolsters an environment of learning and cooperation.
BCH is the only helicopter operation authorized to do aerial tours of the Great Wall of China. While on-site, Sparks and Payne got to experience the tour firsthand.
The first thing that stood out to the pair about the BCH tour operation was the level of security at the airport. While there is virtually no security at general aviation airports in the United States, there was a full screening process to get onto the ramp at Beijing Badaling Airport. “There was very tight control of airport access,” Sparks says. Passports and IDs had to be scanned before they were allowed access. This access control is a vital part of BCH security.
Once Sparks and Payne were through security, BCH had ground handlers ready to help them get in the helicopter and get buckled. These ground handlers also provided safety instructions, such as staying away from the tail rotor, that the average civilian passenger might not know.
“They were also there to help us exit the helicopter,” Sparks says. “It was clear that they wanted to provide the safest environment possible for passengers.”
While most tour operations in the United States only use one pilot, BCH tours operate with two. With two pilots, one can stay focused on the flight, while the other can interact with passengers or highlight points of interest below. “This is a great safety practice from a crew resource management perspective,” Sparks says. “With two minds instead of one, it elevates safety through increased situational awareness.”
Follow Their Lead
It is clear that BCH has achieved its goal of being a safety trendsetter in the industry. “BCH’s safety program is very well formulated and documented,” Sparks concluded. “It set the stage for their leadership to develop a culture that aspires to a high standard of safety.” That’s exactly what HAI-APS strives to achieve.
To become an HAI-APS accredited operator, you’ll need to demonstrate that your operations are in compliance with internationally accepted standards of safety and professionalism for helicopter operations. To learn more about the process of becoming an accredited operator, visit hai-aps.rotor.org or email email@example.com.
Jenna Scafuri is an editor in HAI’s Publications and Media Department.