Read More: Another Maintenance Tech Heads to the Airlines
December 10, 2019

Are we ready to lose this generation of maintenance technicians?

I recently had the opportunity to attend an aviation maintenance technician (AMT) school graduation. The students had worked hard for this moment, and it should have been a great day as I watched eight young men graduate, ready to take their FAA licensing exam and become working AMTs.

But the graduation instead left me wondering how our industry will ensure a sustainable future.

I first learned about the AMT program at Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) in Weyers Cave, Virginia, through my work at HAI. Allison McKay, vice president of Helicopter Foundation International (HFI), and I visited with the cadre and leadership of BRCC in the spring of 2018 to discuss a possible partnership between BRCC and a local high school.

This was part of a joint effort by HAI/HFI staff to provide more students with access to aviation maintenance education. We have all recognized that our industry’s need for maintenance technicians and pilots isn’t being met currently. This gap is expected to widen in the coming years as demand for these positions rises while experienced personnel age out of the workforce.

I had attended a Part 147 school many years ago, but by 2018, my knowledge of the current Part 147 curriculum was narrow. Fred Dyen, PhD, who runs the BRCC AMT program, explained the school’s program to me and Allison.

As Dyen was talking, my wheels began to turn—what an incredible opportunity the school offers to prospective students. BRCC offers three options for students pursuing aviation maintenance technology certificates:

  • In the Associate Degree Certificate track, students attend AMT classes for half the day and attend degree-required classes during the other half. At the end of two years, students receive an associate degree and a certificate authorizing the student to test for the FAA A&P certificate.
  • Another option is the 12-Month Certificate track. In this case, students attend AMT classes for eight hours per day, five days a week, for 12 months. At the end of the course, the students earn a school completion certificate authorizing them to take the FAA test for the A&P certificate.
  • The 24-Month Certificate track is for students who only want to attend class for half a day. After two years of half-day classes, they’re eligible to test for the A&P certificate.

My son Corey, a recent graduate of Averett University in Danville, Virginia, had shown interest in aviation maintenance, so the timing was perfect. I shared the options with him that evening. It was a no-brainer, and he was soon enrolled to attend the 12-Month Certificate track, beginning in August 2018.

Fast-forward to August 2019. It was my honor to see Corey and his fellow students graduate. Each one had an AMT job to go to when they finished, pending the award of their A&P certificates.

The students had already completed the general written exam and the oral and practical exams. The only obstacles remaining were the airframe and powerplant written exams. These tests can’t be taken until the students have the school certificate in hand upon graduation.

Corey graduated from the course on a Friday and took the airframe and powerplant exams the next Tuesday. He was awarded his FAA A&P certificate that same afternoon at the Richmond, Virginia, FSDO. As I told him, “With that in your hand, you’ll never go hungry.”

Here’s the discouraging part of the experience. Out of the eight students in that class, there were three who told me they wanted to get into the helicopter industry. In the end, here’s the number who chose that path: zero.

So what happened?

Airline recruiters came to the school, actively seeking young, motivated, self-starting mechanics to replenish their ranks as more experienced mechanics move up to the majors. Along with a job, the airlines offered:

  • Cash bonuses or new toolboxes equipped with the on-the-job tools the company expects they’ll need
  • Medical, dental, and vision insurance
  • Free or extremely low-cost air travel for themselves and family members
  • A four-day workweek (four 10-hour days).

Let’s contrast that with what Corey and his classmates heard from the helicopter industry: [insert cricket noise here].

That’s right. No helicopter maintenance recruiter ever cast a shadow on the school door. Instead of being sought after and courted as valuable hires, those students who wanted to get into the helicopter industry had to go out and look for a job. Even when they did that, however, they couldn’t find any position they were qualified for. Everything they found on the job boards required a minimum of three years of experience.

Everywhere I go representing HAI, I hear that our industry is starving for helicopter pilots and mechanics. One reason often given is that young men and women are just not choosing jobs in aviation. That may be correct, but I also see that we’re not helping ourselves.

Not so long ago, recruiting in this industry consisted of posting a job and then sitting back and watching the resumes roll in. Those days are over.

When it comes to hiring the next generation of the aviation workforce, the Part 121 operators are beating us every way possible. They actually recruit, going to where the students are and offering competitive salaries and great benefits to entry-level personnel. It’s unlikely that once a young mechanic goes to the airlines that a helicopter operator will ever lure them away.

In early 2018, HFI held a workforce development seminar called Heli-Futures at HAI headquarters in Alexandria. Folks attended from across the industry sectors. Our goal was to find ways to end the pilot and mechanic shortages that exist now and the even more extreme shortfall that’s forecast for the future.

The overwhelming consensus among attendees was that increasing salaries was a choice by an individual company and, as a practical matter, wasn’t something we could productively discuss. So we talked about nonsalaried benefits. In the end, I thought the seminar was productive and would lead to changes that would make the helicopter industry a competitive option equal to the airlines. That hasn’t yet happened.

Some large helicopter companies have acquired other operators that serve to feed pilots into the mother ship when there’s a need. That’s a positive development, as pilots benefit from having defined career pathways as they meet hour and experience requirements. You can see this in play predominately in the airline industry and in limited form in the helicopter community.

What we don’t see are these types of building blocks for maintenance technicians in the helicopter industry. We’re far behind in providing structured shop training for mechanics before they’re sent out to work solo in the field.

My son was born into a helicopter family; JP-8 is in his DNA. He has a pilot license, A&P certificate, and a bachelor’s degree in aviation business. He took it all to the airlines.

We must get better if we’re going to compete.

Fugere tutum!

Read More: Meet Annie Paya
December 10, 2019

Annie Paya
Bend, Oregon, USA
 
Quick Facts
Current job: Bell 407 fire/utility pilot
First aviation job: Flight instructor
Favorite helicopter: The one I’m flying


What about helicopters first captured your imagination?
I fell in love the first time I witnessed an S-64 Skycrane drop a load of water on the fire my Forest Service hand crew and I were digging line around. I tend to get bored with things quickly, but I knew I had found my calling once I started flying. It was such a dynamic experience, and I knew that it would never stop challenging me.

Tell us about your first helicopter ride.
During my second fire season, my crew was flown to a fire out in northern Idaho that had no road access. The pilot, an old Vietnam vet, let me sit in front. I babbled something about being interested in helicopters, and he made sure to give us a pretty good thrill ride on the way out there. I couldn’t stop smiling. When we landed, I realized not everybody enjoyed it as I did, and that got me thinking a lot more about flying.

What advice would you give to someone pursuing your career path?
Don’t become a pilot for the glory, because you’ll soon find out there is none. Do it because you love the view and the challenge. Be ready to take out some big loans; you’ll be able to start paying them back about six to eight years into your career. Make friends and find mentors in the industry; don’t go it alone. Get comfortable with constant studying and test-taking.

Read More: Bill Sanderson Scholarship Winner Ethan Mutschler
December 10, 2019

HFI scholarships provide additional learning opportunities for aviation students.

Ethan Mutschler was always interested in aviation, but he didn’t decide to pursue it as a career until he had been working in other industries for several years. Once he married and thought of starting a family, Ethan decided to go back to school to pursue a better career in line with his long-term goals.

After researching the opportunities offered in aviation, he enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Aviation Maintenance Technology program at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Ethan is currently in his final year of school and pursuing his inspection authorization rating. In order to further his education, he applied for and won third place in the Bill Sanderson Aviation Maintenance Technician Scholarship offered by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI).

Sanderson scholarship winners can choose from a selection of maintenance courses offered by airframe and powerplant manufacturers. Ethan chose to attend the Pratt & Whitney PT6 engine course.

Ethan feels supported by his college instructors and the network of resources provided by the industry that encouraged him to expand and reinforce the training he received in the classroom. “Instructors in the aviation department have done an excellent job of providing us as students with the education needed to achieve success for when we enter the industry. Part of this is by providing numerous scholarship opportunities through numerous providers.”

While he finishes his studies, Ethan is working in a flex position with the Geisinger Life Flight maintenance team. He plans to get his inspection authorization once eligible and, eventually, to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

When asked his advice to those looking to enter the industry, Ethan says, “Work hard, set stepping stones and goals for yourself, and always be hungry to learn more!”

Read More: Recent Accidents & Incidents
December 10, 2019

The rotorcraft accidents and incidents listed here occurred between Jul. 1 and Sep. 30, 2019. The accident details shown are preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. All ­information was obtained through the official websites listed below, where you can learn more details about each event.

Read More: Hang Up and Fly!
December 10, 2019

Distracted flying turns a mundane mission into tragedy.

It’s hard to think of many aspects of modern life that haven’t been penetrated by our smartphone culture. For younger users in particular, phones have largely replaced road maps, cameras, radios, and reference libraries. They’re used around the clock to play games, look for love, and diagnose illness, not to mention shop for everything from paper goods to real estate. Increasing numbers of pilots rely on them to file flight plans, check NOTAMs, and get weather updates en route—all without ever exchanging pleasantries with a Flight Service briefer.

The potential for distraction posed by this explosion of entertainment and commercial options—and yes, legitimate aviation activities—likewise spans a great many domains, but the risk of ensuing mayhem might be greatest in the transportation sector. The loss of situational awareness for a driver, pilot, or pedestrian can lead to tragic outcomes. This is why eliminating distractions in all modes of transportation has made repeated appearances on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. As the recitation in the preceding paragraph suggests, most of the mischief attributable to ill-timed acquiescence to the cell-phone compulsion doesn’t involve actual telephone conversations … but there are exceptions.

The Flight

On Sep. 15, 2017, a commercial pilot and reporter for Albuquerque, New Mexico, television station KRQE flew the station’s helicopter to Roswell to cover a Friday night football game. He spent the night there, lifting off shortly before 4:00 pm the following afternoon to return to Albuquerque International Sunport (KABQ). Winds were light and visibility excellent under high broken ceilings. At 4:07, he placed a call to a rental car agency at Sunport, but the call disconnected after just three seconds.

At 4:12, he called again. He was a frequent customer, and the agency employee who took the call recognized his voice. She said later that while she wasn’t aware he was in a helicopter, he did sound “busy or distracted—like talking to my husband when he was working on his car.” After confirming that he’d receive a discounted rate for that day’s rental, they began discussing a future reservation. After one minute and 47 seconds, the call disconnected “in midsentence” and the pilot didn’t call back.

Near the high desert village of Ancho, a resident saw a plume of smoke rising from a neighborhood ranch and went to investigate. He found the burning wreckage of the helicopter at the end of a 300-foot debris path and notified local authorities. Fire eventually consumed most of the aircraft.

The Pilot

The 64-year-old pilot, a native New Mexican, held a­ ­commercial certificate for single-engine airplane, multi-engine airplane, and helicopter. He was also a helicopter CFI and held a remote (drone) pilot certification. He’d renewed his second-class medical certificate on April 2, less than six months before the accident, with no limitations beyond the required use of corrective lenses. His medical application listed 8,800 hours of total flight time that included 150 hours in the preceding six months.

He was also a veteran journalist with more than 40 years’ experience, including nearly 30 with the station. Colleagues described him as one of its best “reporters, writers, editors, photographers,” a mentor who taught new staff “how to be a good person on top of being a good reporter.”

The Aircraft

The 1989 Bell 206L-3 had completed its last inspection on June 6, at which time it had been flown for 8,798.7 hours. Its engine had been operated for 7,956.1 hours and 7,623 cycles. It had been modified for newsgathering with the addition of a camera pod under its chin.

Read More: File IFR and Fly TK Routes
December 10, 2019

IFR helicopter-only routes are available now in some areas.

The rate of fatal helicopter accidents usually rises in the fall each year, according to the US Helicopter Safety Team. This is typically because of visibility issues that increase the risk of accidents such as controlled flight into terrain or running into a tower or power line while diverting around weather (bit.ly/BumpInRoad).

Today’s technologically advanced aircraft are increasingly being equipped and certificated to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR). When pilots have their IFR rating and are competent and confident in their IFR skills, filing and flying IFR allows them to safely operate in lower weather minimums.

The resulting increased number of completed flights will also deliver financial benefits to helicopter operators. For example, a September 2000 review by the National Library of Medicine reported that a helicopter air ambulance (HAA) operator missed an average of 24% of flights during a six-year period because of poor visibility and low clouds, conditions in which IFR-capable helicopters could fly. Analysis of that operator’s expenses and revenue suggested that converting a helicopter from visual flight rules (VFR) to IFR, which would require equipment purchases and additional pilot training, would have been “economically feasible given the potential revenue gained by the number of flights completed during marginal weather conditions” (bit.ly/WhyIFRAir).  

In the days before electronic flight bags (EFB), pilots were required to lay out IFR charts and approach plates in the FBO. They would sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone talking with the FAA in order to receive a weather brief and file an IFR flight plan. The ease of filing IFR has increased exponentially since the inception of EFBs, enabling pilots to use any number of sources, such as FlyQ, Garmin Pilot, or ForeFlight, to quickly obtain weather and file.

Operating helicopters under IFR decreases risk and increases safety for many reasons, but issues still remain. Because IFR flights have higher minimum altitudes than VFR ones, operators and pilots must mitigate some additional risks. Most helicopters lack de-icing capability and pressurized cabins, and the aerodynamics of rotary-wing flight result in decreased performance as altitude increases. Helicopters also have to compete for airspace with fixed-wing traffic at higher altitudes.

For these reasons, the FAA and ICAO are designing and implementing IFR routes for helicopters that start as low as 1,200 feet above ground level (agl). These routes, labeled as TK on IFR sectionals, are intended to enhance safety and improve the efficient use of the navigable airspace for en route IFR helicopter operations (bit.ly/RNAVNortheast).

In March 2006, HAI requested that the FAA develop and chart IFR-required navigation (RNAV) airways for use by helicopters with IFR-approved GPS equipment. This included the use of RNAV to assist IFR helicopter pilots transiting through busy terminal airspace areas while providing routes separate from fixed-wing traffic.

The FAA defines the use of TK routes where the RNAV specification is 2 nautical miles (nm), but it has also determined that helicopter-only routes with a required navigation performance (RNP) of 0.3 nm may be developed to support en route point-based navigation helicopter operations. For example, a performance value of RNP 0.3 ensures that the aircraft has the capability of remaining within 0.3 nm of the right or left side of the centerline 95% of the time (bit.ly/PBNInstrument).

Most people are unaware of the fact that two helicopter TK routes now exist in the northeast United States, between Washington, D.C., and New York City. They’re used mostly by HAA operators using IFR-equipped and certificated helicopters. Unfortunately, the number of daily helicopter operations is low, with the FAA estimating fewer than 50 helicopter operations on the routes per month.

Advances in helicopter GPS and Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) avionics technology are enabling instrument approach procedures (IAP) to US heliports, and operating helicopters under IFR increases their utility and safety. Per the FAA, “helicopter IFR operators have an excellent safety record due to the investment in IFR-equipped helicopters, development of IAPs, and IFR-trained flight crews” (bit.ly/FAAInstrument). 

Read More: Launching a Successful Human Factors Program for Maintenance
December 10, 2019

What could possibly go wrong?

Most safety professionals will tell you that “selling” human factors to maintenance technicians can be a daunting task. It’s no wonder they, having endured a multitude of failed safety improvement programs over the years, regard human factors as more of the same. “Flavor of the month” is a term often heard. Others compare it to a bad case of indigestion with the wistful words, “This too shall pass.”

By the end of a typical human factors course, that skepticism has turned to enthusiasm. Negativism is replaced by comments like, “Superb course,” “I recommend this to all technicians,” and, “We should have started this a long time ago.”

That’s a great start for your human factors program, but it’s just the beginning. Technician support is essential to the success of any human factors program aimed at reducing maintenance errors and improving workplace safety. Garnering this support involves more than just providing the training, however. Certain conditions must be embraced by the entire workplace, including technicians, management, and leadership, to create the conditions that will allow your human factors program to flourish.

Get management buy-in. At the conclusion of human factors training, the most frequently heard question is, “This sounds great, but will our management support and follow through with it?” The vision of management and technicians working together to identify and eliminate factors that lead to errors seems improbable to some maintenance personnel.

A strong initial statement of support, delivered personally by a ranking company manager, and accompanied by consistent follow-through is necessary to overcome this skepticism and encourage continued technician support and participation. If management support is lukewarm or inconsistent—if the “flavor of the month” charge turns out to be true—your organization’s human factors program will fail.

Adopt a clear, fair, and consistently applied discipline policy. When the Boeing Maintenance Error Decision Aid (MEDA) tool was first introduced in the airline industry, it wasn’t immediately accepted. The process relies on maintenance personnel to provide crucial data about the factors that caused the error. If those personnel are unsure how the collected data is to be used, it’s not surprising that some would be less than forthcoming.

For this reason, it’s vital that human factors error-reduction programs include a policy aimed at instituting or strengthening an organization’s just culture. An unintentional error must be treated as a process or training issue, rather than a disciplinary one. The focus is on improving safety, not punishment. Management should provide maintenance personnel with clear guidance on how both unintentional and intentional errors will be handled—and stick to it every time.

Use real-world examples to define benefits. As previously mentioned, maintenance personnel are naturally skeptical of soft-skill training. I’ve found the wisest approach isn’t to ignore this skepticism but rather to address it via a well-reasoned introduction. To this end, you may want to pose to them two questions: What are human factors? And why should I care?

Even under the best conditions, defining the term “human factors” can be difficult. Clear, practical definitions of terms such as “human error” and “maintenance error,” accompanied by real-life examples, can begin to build the case that this is a topic worthy of technician and management attention.

Achieving a high level of buy-in, however, requires a convincing answer to the second question. Strong evidence from aviation safety and economics is needed. Use both positive examples (how a human factors issue was spotted and corrected to provide a measurable safety improvement) and negative ones (there are a multitude of examples of this, unfortunately). Properly presented, this evidence leaves no doubt in the mind of the maintenance professional that this is a topic that requires and is worthy of technician support.

Employ a practical, team-based approach to reducing human error. Overcoming technicians’ stereotypes of soft-skill programs like human factors requires the program to have a practical utility that any technician can readily understand and in which he or she can actively participate. Implementation of an ­error-reduction process, such as the MEDA process, can provide such practical utility.

With this process, when an incident occurs, technicians are involved in identifying the human factors that contributed to the incident and recommending strategies to reduce further occurrences. Participating in the process allows technicians to come face-to-face with the practical reality of human factors, how these factors contribute to errors, and the role they can play in preventing future incidents. 

Read More: Hiller Aviation Group, Inc.
December 10, 2019

After a stint in the US Army, Michael Tragarz made a 44-year career of aviation, eventually retiring from American Airlines as a captain. In 2000, while still flying commercially, he refurbished his first Hiller helicopter. Tragarz is now not just the proud owner of seven of those machines—including this, the only flying UH-12-E4/5 in the world—he’s also CEO of Hiller Aviation Group, Inc.

Read More: ROTOR Wins Design Award
September 03, 2019

ROTOR Magazine was recently recognized for design excellence by the Association of Media and Publishing (AM&P). At the June 24 Excel Awards gala, the ROTOR design team received a Bronze Excel Award for Magazine Redesign for magazines in the 20,001-50,000 copies circulation category.

The ROTOR design team was composed of editor Gina Kvitkovich, assistant editor Jenna Scafuri, and graphic designer Phyllis Utter from HAI, and a team of outside designers from BonoTom Studio. As part of the project, the team adopted a new nameplate (or logo) for ROTOR, new fonts and layout grids, as well new paper.

The team also reorganized the content of the magazine, placing less emphasis on HAI internal departments and more on the types of content requested by readers. A column on training (Keeping Up) was added. ROTOR now covers helicopter accidents and incidents. Several columns focus on the people and businesses that make up our industry, including Field Notes, Future Faces, Flight Path, and In the Spotlight.

Our Fly Safe and Work Safe columns are aimed at pilot safety and workplace safety, respectively, adopting the team-based approach to safety that reflects safety management system principles. And we instituted this section, ROTOR Wash, as a place for HAI news, short interviews, industry data, and helpful tips—all aimed at helping you to keep your rotors turning.

Stay tuned—the ROTOR media team has more changes coming your way.

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