Read More: Working in Longline Operations
November 15, 2020

Longline work is a special niche of the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) industry, one that requires precision and intricate teamwork.

1 DON’T rely on the horizon for reference when flying longline. In most helicopter flights, the pilot faces forward, looking out the windscreen at the nose of the aircraft to determine spatial positioning. But in external-load operations, which typically use lines of 100 to 250 feet that hang below the ship, it’s critical to look out the door of the helicopter and down—a practice even experienced pilots find challenging, says Cody Barton, chief pilot for Columbia Helicopters. “Using vertical reference is the toughest thing about longline to get used to,” he says. “It can frustrate a pilot who’s new to the sector. It really gives you humility.”

2 DO practice, practice, practice. The key to becoming adept at longline work, say experts, isn’t so much the aircraft you train in but the amount of time you put into it. “It takes about 20 hours of flight time for a pilot with no longline experience to get to a point where you can safely fly a basic longline op,” says Andre Hutchings, director of operations at external-load training company Volo Mission (VM). In VM’s in-person classes, participants practice with various line lengths—50 feet versus 200 feet, for example—to solidify their skills. And in the ground portion of the course, they learn to appreciate the perspective of the ground crew, who must complete their work with helicopters hovering over their heads.

Read More: Implementing Flight-Data Monitoring
August 14, 2020

The US National Transportation Safety Board recommends that all Part 135 operators install flight-data monitoring (FDM) technology. But every operation can reap FDM’s safety and operational performance benefits. Best of all, modern FDM equipment is lighter, less expensive, and easier to use than legacy models, placing the technology within reach of small and medium-sized operators. Below are five best practices to help you on your FDM journey.

1. DON’T invest in FDM equipment without making an equal commitment to build an ongoing program to analyze and act on the information. Installing equipment without a plan to constructively use the data will waste time and money and provide no benefit.

2. DO seek help from others when starting your FDM journey. Ask other operators about their FDM installations and how they overcame early challenges. Reach out to industry organizations like HAI and AAMS to research FDM options. The answers you seek are just a call or click away.

3. DON’T make FDM a substitute for a safety management system (SMS). Yes, FDM will provide you with data about hazards, but only SMS will provide you with the complete tools to manage safety effectively, including a systematic approach to ongoing hazard analysis and risk mitigation. Without a foundational SMS, stand-alone safety initiatives, including FDM, will likely be exposed as costly half-measures and fail.

4. DO follow FDM product and service markets closely. As technologies and capabilities continue to mature, your barrier to implementing FDM technology may be lower than you thought. There are multiple options and price points available; you can start small and plan for expansion as your FDM program grows (and as you start reaping the benefits).

5. DON’T allow FDM to become a mechanism for a gotcha! mentality; instead, use it within the framework of a just culture. While you mustn’t ignore egregious violations, the bulk of your FDM data should be used to improve operational safety and performance by finding and closing gaps in policies, procedures, training, and skills.

Thanks to Chris Hill, HAI director of safety, and the panelists on the Jul. 9, 2020, HAI@Work webinar, “Harnessing the Value of Helicopter Flight-Data Monitoring”: Jeff Currin, FOQA manager, Life Flight Network; Pete Henrikson, president and founder, Truth Data; Zach Powers, FOQA program manager, Air Methods Corp.; and Ryan Smith, flight safety manager, PHI Americas. Listen to the recorded webinar to learn more about FDM.

Read More: Unplanned VFR Flight into IMC
June 05, 2020

1 DO get trained and stay proficient. Training, certification, and proficiency are the best weapons against inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC). Even if you’re not instrument rated or have lapsed in currency, you can still improve your recognition of and recovery from unplanned flight into degraded visual environments. You can conduct this training in an aircraft or Level D simulator, but you can also use low-cost aviation training devices or desktop simulation programs to develop and maintain your instrument skills and improve your confidence to deal with unplanned IMC. 

2 DON’T even think about attempting VFR flight into deteriorating weather conditions. The FAA offers a subtle warning in its Helicopter Flying Handbook: “If the pilot isn’t instrument rated, instrument current, or proficient, or is flying a non–IFR-equipped helicopter, remaining in VMC [visual meteorological conditions] is paramount” (https://bit.ly/3a3mby6, pages 11–24 through 11–26). 

We prefer to state it more boldly: In an unplanned VFR flight into IMC, if you’re not a highly proficient ­instrument-rated pilot operating a fully certificated IFR aircraft, your chances of surviving beyond two minutes are nearly ZERO. 

3 DO set, announce, and follow your personal limits. Clearly understand and consistently abide by the limitations of your aircraft, your skills, and regulations—without compromise! Always brief your takeoff minimums and en route decision points before you fly. Doing so manages the expectations of your crew and passengers and ensures that active risk management is integrated into all phases of flight planning and execution.

4 DON’T scud run! IFR does not stand for “I follow roads.” Focusing on what’s below you is a sure way to collide with what’s in front of you (terrain, wires, towers, etc.). Take note if you’re getting lower (for example, 500 feet agl) or slower (such as 50 KIAS [knots indicated airspeed]) just to maintain your visual references. You likely have already reached a decision point and need to return home, amend your flight to avoid IMC, or if a safe landing can be made, simply get the helicopter on the ground and Land & LIVE! 

5 DO respond immediately and decisively if you enter IMC. Despite warnings to avoid continued VFR flight into bad weather, it still happens. If you have an unexpected entry into IMC, what you do in the next few seconds will determine your fate. First and always, make helicopter control a priority above all other duties or distractions.

Here are the five basic steps all pilots should be trained to execute immediately if they ever encounter IIMC: 

  1. Wings: Level the bank angle using the attitude indicator 
  2. Attitude: Set a climb attitude that achieves a safe climb speed
  3. Airspeed: Verify that the attitude selected has achieved the desired airspeed 
  4. Power: Adjust to a climb power setting relative to the desired airspeed
  5. Heading and trim: Pick a heading known to be free of obstacles and maintain it.

Note: The guidance available on IIMC is much too extensive to limit to only five steps. We strongly encourage all pilots to refer to the 2019 release of the FAA’s Helicopter Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-21B. Pages 11–24 through 11–26 include several updates addressing how best to avoid and respond to VFR flight into IMC.

Read More: 5 Best Practices for Minimizing Your Helicopter’s Noise
January 20, 2020

  1.  During level flight, accelerations are quieter than decelerations, and straight flight is quieter than turning flight. These proven techniques for operating your aircraft enable pilots to fly more quietly and reduce annoyance from noise. The continued growth of helicopter aviation requires the acceptance and support of people who live and work in your communities and who are affected by helicopter noise.
     
  2. If turning, remember that turning away from the advancing blade (especially when decelerating) is quieter than turning into the advancing blade, and level turns are quieter than descending turns. Make a daily effort to lessen the noise impact of your aircraft on the neighborhoods below your flight path. The helicopter industry’s future financial prosperity depends on your ability to fly neighborly and minimize helicopter noise impacts. Helicopter noise, and the opposition to helicopter operations it often creates, is slowing the growth of the industry.
     
  3. During a descent, straight-in flight is quieter than turning flight, and steeper approaches are quieter than shallow approaches. Don’t give people living in noise-affected areas more reasons to oppose helicopter operations, and don’t provide the noise-affected population with justification to restrict your ability to provide important services to the communities you serve and to impact your livelihood as an aviation professional.
     
  4. If decelerating, remember that level-flight decelerations are quieter than descending or turning-flight decelerations. Fly neighborly every day, always mindful of how you can reduce the noise you are creating. The public is watching and will hold you accountable for the way you operate your aircraft. Because of social media, it’s easy for noise-affected groups to circulate audio and video of your activities—and reach millions.
     
  5. While maneuvering, smooth and gentle control inputs are quieter than rapid control inputs. Fly neighborly and represent your industry responsibly. One careless pilot makes us all look bad. To a noise-affected community, one unnecessarily low-flying helicopter can represent all of us. How you operate your aircraft reflects on all who fly helicopters.

The Fly Neighborly program was officially launched by HAI in February 1982 and has since gained US and international acceptance. Fly Neighborly training was developed by HAI’s Fly Neighborly / Environmental Committee (now Working Group) and provides helicopter operators with noise abatement procedures and situational awareness tools that can be used to significantly enhance operations. Fly Neighborly training is available on the FAA Safety Team website at https://go.usa.gov/xQPCW.

Read More: Onboarding the New Guy/Gal
December 10, 2019

1. DON’T rush the settling-in process. Switching jobs is stressful, especially for young employees or recent graduates; others may have moved spouses and children across the country to take the position with your organization. You don’t want your people to be distracted by these myriad administrative and personal issues, especially for flight- and ­maintenance-related positions that require a high level of attention to detail. Help your new hires settle in and then focus on the job.

2. DO make a good first impression. You only get one chance at it. The modern workforce places value on how their organization makes them feel. Quite often, this is ranked as high as compensation, and it certainly can be a factor in retention. If you value this new hire, then act like it. If you assign a mentor, make sure she or he is there when the new employee arrives. If the individual will have an assigned workspace, make sure it’s ready and supplied appropriately. Make him or her feel like a valued member of your organization, beginning on Day 1.

3. DON’T forget to include the boss. Top-tier leadership can play an important role in the onboarding process. Besides peers and first-level supervisors, new employees should also meet with your organization’s senior leaders. Through direct interaction with top management, employees immediately gain an appreciation for their value to the organization. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity for them to hear about essential topics such as your safety culture and core values. If it’s significant enough for the boss to stop in and discuss with them, it must be important.

4. DO provide opportunities for feedback. You’re missing out on an opportunity to improve your processes if you’re not asking the new guy or gal for feedback. Scheduling meetings at preset intervals provides you with an opportunity to check in and see how they’re doing. These meetings also offer a chance to evaluate the effectiveness of your onboarding program. Asking open-ended questions and being receptive to candid feedback will help you and your new hire establish a relationship of open communication.

5. DO offer follow-on training and supervision. A lot of “stuff” gets thrown at new employees when they first show up; it’s nearly impossible for them to absorb it all. A “one-and-done” style of training is insufficient, particularly for flight- or safety-critical processes. Supervisors should expect that new hires may need extra monitoring. Provide follow-on services that reinforce that initial burst of training. Most importantly, make this a positive experience. Praise new hires who seek follow-on training; their initiative and desire to get it right demonstrate their alignment with your organizational culture.

Read More: Preparing for Winter Operations
November 13, 2018

The cold temperatures that winter brings can be more than a nuisance for helicopter operations.

1. Review guidance for cold-weather operations. Most OEMs, both airframe and engine, have published guidance relating to the conduct of operations when conditions are near, at, or below freezing temperatures. The FAA has also published various guidance in the form of SAFOs, SAIBs, and other communications. Schedule some time to review these and ensure you are operating in compliance.

2. Check for moisture. A key issue affecting safety of flight is the accumulation of moisture in fuel systems, engine control systems, and almost any type of sensing system. Temperature changes can affect the amount or location of water accumulation. Does your aircraft require the use of a fuel additive such as Prist or something similar? If so, under what conditions?

3. Conduct a safety stand-down. Hold a safety stand-down to review your company’s SOPs, as well as industry best practices. Include both maintenance and operations personnel. Everyone needs to be on the safety team!

4. Learn from your mistakes. If you have any past company history relating to cold-weather operations, talk about what happened, why did it happen, and how we will avoid it happening again. We aren’t inventing new ways to have accidents, so let’s learn from our old ones.

5. Help the new guys. If you have new pilots or maintenance technicians on staff, be mindful that they may not have experience operating in your environment. Make sure they get the extra training or oversight they need. An operation where 98 percent of your colleagues know the right way to do things is not acceptable.