IATA Instructor Standards Workshop in Singapore

I recently attended an IATA Instructor Standards Workshop in Singapore. I’ve been to a few refresher courses for instructors over the years and I’m grateful for them given my first formal instructor qualifications were obtained back in 1989.

Since that time, a lot has changed.  For example, we no longer use blackboards or overhead projectors – there’s a smart piece of equipment called the interactive white board. Displaying the scribblings of the instructor as well as reference material and video, it’s hard to imagine how we’ve taught aerodynamics without it. The training aids available to the instructor today have the ability to make the classroom a fascinating and interactive place. The computerised instructional tools released by CAE for virtual cockpits, surgical theatres and mining equipment are amazing examples of how far training aids have come.

It wasn’t the technology that has reinvigorated my passion for teaching, however, but the enthusiasm of the instructor at the IATA workshop. Jaap De Lange has been teaching for a long time and it showed. The 63-year-old Dutchman – half-lecturer/half-showman – held the attention of the experienced audience for three days. Not an easy task, given the students were all instructors. His style reminded me of the brilliance of past flight instructors who inspired me throughout my career with stories about why it is important to do this, or how a colleague met with disaster doing that.

We call these case studies now – a clever term used in andragogy for telling war stories. The ability to explain complex subjects in simple terms using the most basic of instructional training aids is an art, and Jaap is a master. CBT and instructional videos have their place, but in my opinion the combination of the old-fashioned chalk and talk enhanced with the new technology of the modern classroom is a rewarding combination for the student.

Learning is part of the aviation game, and the game doesn’t stop just because you received a licence or rating or certificate. When I passed my commercial pilot licence flight test, I recall the examiner shaking my hand and leaving me with these words, “Now you have a licence to learn.” I didn’t grasp the value of the comment at the time, but watching Jaap teach me the methods of writing a sound lesson objective for adult learners, I fully understand the sentiment passed to me 25 years earlier.

In aviation, learning and re-learning never stops. Fresh from the IATA workshop, I recall these basic principles; adults learn differently to children so keep the lessons relevant to their workplace, make the exercises interactive using modern technology and don’t stop telling war stories!

I hope to entice Jaap with cold beer and biscuits to visit Australia later in the year and present a few subjects for us at ASSET. If you need a refresher on training delivery, design or management, I highly recommend my fellow IATA instructor. I’ll keep you informed if Jaap takes the bait, and post when he arrives in Australia because it will be a true masterclass on the subject.

Understanding the helicopter culture: a guide for aviation auditors (Part Three) Opportunities in Oceania and Asia.

Author’s introduction. This is the end of our three-part series designed to assist new auditors and consultants in understanding the nature of the helicopter industry and associated business opportunities. Previously, we examined the exciting growth of the Australian helicopter industry and the steady growth in New Zealand.  In this article we will identify opportunities now existing in our region and beyond. For example, the release of China’s low level air space to allow the development of general aviation has enormous potential for international aviation consultants and auditors.

In April 2012, the world’s civilian helicopter fleet was estimated at 22,000, of which 13,500 were based in the USA. Australia ranks sixth in the world with about 2,000. Over the past six years we have seen strong growth in the twin engine fleet in the region. There are now more than 210 twins in Australia. The growth of the twin fleet in Australia (21% pa) is nearly three times faster than the single engine rate, which is now at 8%. This market is being driven by SAR and HEMS orders. Recently more corporate buyers have appeared. Across the Tasman, New Zealand managed to take 10th place on the global listings. NZ has 790 helicopters of which 51 are twins (6%). The Australian and New Zealand aviation registers now have more twins than the military forces in our region.

Every week in Australia the CASA register increases by four helicopters

One twin is added every three weeks!

New Zealand’s growth has slowed to one new helicopter every two weeks

The insistence by the general public to have the protection of an aeromedical industry has been the driving current expansion. Recently, key players in the mining resources boom are demanding additional aeromedical coverage. Therefore, the expansion of the heavy segment will soon produce a shortage of aircrew. It is easy to overlook the fact we lack qualified and capable managers to oversee the accident prevention requirements flowing from client requirements as a result of a long history of fatal accidents.

As a result, more work will be generated for external consultants and auditors. They will have to meet the requirements of both the regulator and the client. At present, the client is usually more stringent than the regulator. This is the result of a typical operator being an offshoot of an international company which has to comply with the tougher rules in existing in other areas of the world.

New service providers will be required to educate aviation managers and technical specialists, and also to provide auditors who can be effective as this expansion takes place. As a rule of thumb the accident rate is more than twice that of an aeroplane equivalent. Typically, the chain of events resulting in a catastrophic accident are often tracked back to senior management and the inability their of line supervisors to ensure the company is operating safely.

As an aside, the consultancy and auditing service provider must have a very up-to-date internal training process to ensure their people are able to evaluate heavy helicopter company operations and provide effective feedback.

A common fault with the present system is the operator can boast about a “clean audit report” received from an external auditor, not realising dangers of poorly trained auditors. This deficiency soon becomes apparent when they fail a CASA audit. In some cases, their AOC (and insurance) is in danger of being cancelled. Of course, the auditing firm then gets a bad name due to ineffective auditors not understanding the work involved. The firm overcoming this problem would have a marked advantage in this new market sector.

CASA’s pending introduction of a safety management system is providing an opportunity for service industries. It could be assumed consultants and compliance auditors will have a significant role to play in the coming decade. The regulator has clearly indicated safety management systems will become compulsory for all – not just the larger companies.

The clients in the resources industry and their insurance companies will take every opportunity to raise the bar to ensure compliance standards are understood and carried out in the way they were designed as an accident prevention tool.

Today, the helicopter industry is struggling at present to find suitable chief pilots, even for small companies. It would appear pilots are a avoiding these positions due to an alleged failure rate of 80% for applicants at CASA interviews. Industry sources indicate an attempt is being made to develop a chief pilot’s course to be accredited by CASA and thus avoid the enormous wastage of resources by both the applicant and CASA!

Regional opportunities, in brief:

Australia. There are three major challenges. Firstly; provision of suitable SMS training for managers and chief pilots in the new protocols. Secondly; supervisors must be able to implement the new safety management system. Thirdly, upgrading skills of aviation auditors in be both effective educators and auditors in the heavy helicopter fleet.

Papua New Guinea. It is believed PNG has 200 helicopters. They use the New Zealand regulatory model, which a lot simpler than the CASA model. Due to the prevailing expansion of energy and resource exploration operations, they are undergoing significant changes within their country. It is believed training and auditing requirements will be in demand as more international investors come on to the scene.

Malaysia. At present the helicopter fleet is probably around 100 helicopters. They follow the US FAA rules. Some helicopters owners in Singapore base their machines in Malaysia.

Thailand. Approximately 100 helicopters are based in Thailand, many of which are involved with offshore operations involving overseas operators. The Thais have not really overcome all of the recent international financial setbacks. The widespread use of English, and a less restricted economy should lead to positive growth for the helicopter industry. It was noted during the Heli-Asia 2004 Conference at Bangkok, access to civilian consultants and auditors was difficult. It appeared ex-military people were being used in this role.

India. It is somewhat of a surprise to note India has less than 300 helicopters despite the enormous population of their country. They have an advantage as their skilled people can usually speak English. Often they compare themselves to China, which has only half the number of helicopters than in India. Bureaucratic processes at times seem to strangling new ventures. Despite this, the local industry is attempting to manufacture helicopters and will probably develop their industry to a point where it exceeds the Australian numbers within two decades. There is a great opportunity to establish a service facility which specialises in the Indian helicopter industry.

China. A tourist involved in a traffic accident whilst travelling in China may be surprised to find a helicopter aeromedical system does not yet exist in the world’s second largest economy. If the same person came to grief in Europe then they would probably be assisted by one of 360 helicopter rescue bases in that region. China’s lack of a helicopter emergency service industry has been somewhat of a puzzle to the international SAR and HEMS community.

It could be said the development of general aviation in China has been suffocated by the reluctance of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force to release airspace for private and commercial purposes. Airlines appear to only have access to a third of China’s airspace. Private and commercial general aviation operators are almost totally excluded. China recently became the second largest economy in the world, pushing Japan back to third place. Although the United States still retains first place, economists suggest China will take the lead by 2020.

As a result, in November of 2010, China’s State Council and Central Military Commission jointly released a circular announcing the decision to intensify the reform of China’s low altitude airspace, the new policy covering major cities including Changchun, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Lanzhou, Jinan, and Nanjing. The low altitude air-space will be gradually expanded in more areas and finally cover the whole country by 2015. China’s CAAC follows the US FAA regulations, which makes it easier for international auditors

Chinese business leaders agree the new policy represents a lucrative opportunity to exploit China’s huge general aviation market potential. In particular, the opportunities to develop a SAR and HEMS industry with international help are enormous. Currently, international air rescue authorities are coming forward to assist China. These include European Air Medical Institute (EURAMI), Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS – USA) and European HEMS and Air Ambulance Committee (EHAC). The latter represents 360 helicopter rescue bases in Europe.

Australian view point: A speaker at Australia’s Rotor Tech 2006 stated China has so few civilian helicopters; that their concept of expanding their GA industry to include a large number of multi-engine IFR HEMS helicopters is really not achievable in the short term, without extensive assistance from international logistic and training providers. Sourcing and training of Chinese general aviation managers, pilots, aircrew, engineers, safety specialists and educators will create challengers for several decades.

In conclusion, the speaker stated. “One solution for China, due to our location, is to use training resources in Australia and New Zealand”.

Food for thought?


Have you got two minutes to read this?

Having recently conducted several flight ops audits in the Oceanic region, I’ve seen a trend growing among airlines and charter companies. It’s a trend that relates to operators of different sizes, fleets routes and complexity.  I regularly see common issues with operators, such as fuel prices, limited training budgets and the ever-increasing demands of the finance department to do more with less, but one issue was common amongst all of them, and it is starting to grow in significance.

The issue is time.  Now, we all have 24 hours in a day, no one has more time than anyone else, but it is how we use this time that is starting to get my attention.  When I ask senior managers of flight operations departments about how they keep up with changes, trends, latest safety information, bulletins and so forth, the response is typical, “I do what I can but I don’t really have the time.”  And I believe them!  You only need to sit in the chair of a senior manager for a day to see how operational and commercial pressures have melded together to fall in the lap of the modern manager.

Pulled in various directions and reporting to various masters, spare time is a rarity.  How can a manager effectively read, absorb, and strategically apply information in the modern flight operations department?  My interview with Raul Sosa touches on this subject. We talked about the length of time it takes for safety initiatives to reach the people that need them, particularly following a crash or occurrence.  If the message takes months or even (G-d help us) years to be delivered to managers, who have little or no time to absorb the data, what effect are we actually having on the industry?  A suboptimal one, I suggest.

I recall my first Chief Pilot, a gentleman and mentor who always seemed to have time to sit and read and think things through.  Computers weren’t in the office place then, nor was email, yet new and interesting ideas and techniques were always presented at safety meetings.

How did he do it? He sat quietly and read. In fact, he told people to go away while he was reading.  I just wonder if we couldn’t follow that lead in the modern workplace.  A quiet day, once a month, to just read stuff, important stuff that clever people have written that is designed to save lives.  It could be so named a ‘library day’, but we will need to be smarter about that to get it past the finance department.  Perhaps a ‘safety-compliance-regulatory-review day’ may pass muster?  I don’t know, can you come up with a name – you might go down in flight safety history?

My message is this, I think one day a month, for people such as chief pilots, heads of training and maintenance as well as directors of flight operations, to sit in a quiet place isn’t too much to ask. Consider how satisfied you’d feel with  no pressure from meetings, email, blackberries or the like, to catch up on reading important stuff from the CASA magazine, ICAO, AeroSafety World and auspicious others.   Surely this is a worthwhile safety initiative? Does anyone do this regularly?


When I grow up I want to be a pilot because it’s a fun job and easy to do. That’s why there are so many pilots flying around these days.

Pilots don’t need much school. They just have to learn to read numbers so they can read their instruments.

I guess they should be able to read a road map, too.

Pilots should be brave to they won’t get scared it it’s foggy and they can’t see, or if a wing or motor falls off.

Pilots have to have good eyes to see through the clouds, and they can’t be afraid of thunder or lightning because they are much closer to them than we are.

The salary pilots make is another thing I like. They make more money than they know what to do with. This is because most people think that flying a plane is dangerous, except pilots don’t because they know how easy it is.

I hope I don’t get airsick because I get carsick and if I get airsick, I couldn’t be a pilot and then I would have to go to work.

— purported to have been written by a fifth grade student at Jefferson School, Beaufort, SC. It was first published in the South Carolina Aviation News

Understanding the helicopter culture: a guide for aviation auditors (part 2)

Part Two – Are helicopter pilots and operators a different breed?

Author’s introduction. In this second part of our three-part series, we will follow on from the helicopter industry’s accelerating expansion. In this article we examine the career structure of a typical helicopter manager and see why a very different philosophy about regulatory issues may exist. In our final article in this series, the opportunities arising for both consultants and auditors in Asia are highlighted. For example, the release of China’s low level air space for general aviation to develop has enormous potential for international consultants.

At present helicopters make up 12% of the CASA Aircraft Register. A total of 1,937 of which 205 are multi-engine. Despite the GFC, helicopter numbers have increased by 53% over six years, or 9% per year. New Zealand’s helicopters represent 17% of their 4,600 aircraft. Their growth rate has slowed to 3% per annum due to the post GFC problems.

Before we look at the people within the industry, we should look at the commercial activities. Today there are 947 AOC holders in Australia, of which 259 (27%) are helicopter. The large mustering industry has 69 (27%) of aerial work AOC. Charter numbers are 190 (74%) of which 15 (6%) have international approvals. Auditing service providers know the latter segment is enjoying a growth phase due to energy exploration operations to the north of Australia.

Any old hand at auditing would have noted the helicopter industry attracts a different sort of person to the one you would find in an equivalent aeroplane organisation. Why?

The helicopter commercial pilot has to pay double for his licence compared to an aeroplane graduate, despite the fact his course is around 105 hours verses an aeroplane graduate’s 150 hours.  Light training helicopters are at least twice as expensive as an aeroplane trainer. When the cost of postgraduate training is investigated, the helicopter applicant really suffers. Most multi engine training helicopters cost at least three times more than an aeroplane twin engine platform.

Due to the differences in training costs, the typical helicopter student is usually older, as he has to accumulate enough financial resources to carry him through more expensive training. It is quite normal for a helicopter trainee to have a reasonably senior position in another industry, usually in the mustering or other industries.

The expectations of the graduates are very different. The helicopter industry is scattered across remote areas, far away from capital cities. As a result, the people from these regions generally have a much harder existence and are more self reliant. It would be hard to sell aviation university courses to these people; who in many cases may not be as well educated as their city cousins; but they make up for this for by having a more rugged mental attitude and better business awareness.

The bottom line for most of the helicopter industry is closely aligned to their clients on the ground. The operator must have a good business sense to accommodate the wishes of the client. The operator spends time on the ground talking with people from other industries, and are thus a little worldlier in their business orientation. Unfortunately, many of the helicopter fraternity consider the helicopter in the same way as some people considered a forklift in a factory, just another tool of trade. It can be hard for a new auditor to understand their lack of safety awareness and risk management in some cases.

The pending CASA legislation on the new Safety Management Systems will have great trouble permeating into the distant helicopter companies. They operate away from regulatory influence and controlled airspace and probably rely on the trusty GPS and satellite ‘phone’. Record keeping, why? Do it next month?

By comparison, the aeroplane students are normally younger and probably come from a city environment. Many are seeking a career in the airline industry, which also is based around capital cities. Postgraduate training and higher education at a tertiary level is a common expectation of this group, who may be aiming for acceptance by the recruiter of an airline after serving their time in a regional charter operation or perhaps at a flying school located nearby to a capital city.

Another good thing about the aeroplane industry is a pilot working in small company, or later a regional airline, usually works in an organisation which is larger than a typical helicopter operation. Many helicopter pilots would spend most of their working days away in remote areas, with little supervision and rarely returning to base.

As a result, the aeroplane pilot works in closer contact with supervisors, and also the odd regulator who may be wandering around airports keeping an eye on things. The aeroplane pilot also has approximately 150 or more training hours which includes basic IFR and night; whereas the helicopter pilot would have little over 105 hours with no night training and certainly no IFR exposure. The reason is very simple. Light helicopters do not have any form of night equipment, let alone IFR instrumentation. The fixed wing pilot would also have more exposure to flight planning, weather forecasts and other documentation required for what are predominantly charter operations.

For 30 years or more people argued the logic of sending our most junior rotary wing pilots out into the bush to build up their hours in a high risk mustering environment, often totally unsupervised. The rotary wing accident rate says it all! The helicopter accident rate is twice the GA aviation aeroplane rate. In defence, some will suggest helicopters operate at low level more often. This proposal is flawed when you consider the enormous amount of flying carried out by fixed wing agricultural spray aircraft.

The fundamental difference is the degree of supervision provided to both groups. The helicopter aircrews are normally deficient in their regulatory compliance and need to be watched closely by an auditor. They also have very little contact with the regulator and may be hard to convince what they are doing is out of line.

So what how can an auditor prepare himself better when heading to audit a helicopter company?

Safety Management Course providers say safety culture must come from the top. The course attendees will probably say this is a bit of a joke when they look back upon the supervisors they have experienced since they graduated as pilots. Aeroplane general aviation fleet and regional airline operators are probably run by supervisors who probably had reasonable supervision by their peers.

Most auditors working in this area know of this problem and have to be alert to check if the safety drive is coming from the top (and not from the bottom), and not just because an auditor is coming. Aeroplane companies, being more centralised are generally more aware of the requirements.

But the helicopter industry has a very broad range of compliance performance. Larger IFR, multi engine companies, some with international shareholders, are usually very good, as they are audited by CASA and their clients who generally use contract auditors. The clients often require safety standards in excess of those required by the regulator.

Therefore, it is important the auditor be aware of these overlapping standards which are normally presented in separate manuals at the worksite. The key to success is researching the material. Do not appear out of touch when you audit.

Smaller helicopter operators are different. The average pilot and his supervisors are generally five or more years older than the aviation industry average. A pilot who becomes a supervisor in a small company, often in a remote area, is much less aware of the quality assurance requirements. The managers coming before the auditor do not always have a sound background in compliance issues.

So what can an auditor do when faced with this perceived deficiency?

  • It is essential an auditor checks the AOC and any permits issued by CASA with the Operations Manual. Often, the Operations Manual is the weak link by being out of date.
  • Role equipment are numerous and complex. The auditor must understand how the equipment is used on the helicopter and check it is approved on the AOC.
  • Limitations for role equipment are in the Operations Manual and authorised Flight Manual.
  • Care must be taken checking Flight Manual. A lot of role equipment’s mandatory procedures are attached to the Flight Manual. The attachments must be checked against the Operations Manual – a common source of observations.
  • The DAMP and fatigue management systems are similar to an aeroplane company and need no further comment.
  • The helicopter pilot may need approvals relating to operation of role equipment and other low level operations. Some are activity or time limited. Be careful in this matter.

In conclusion, you must accept paperwork within a small helicopter company, may not be in good order. Time must be allowed to cross check all documentation, including Maintenance Releases to ensure nothing is missed. Honest (and otherwise) mistakes are often made to overcome commercial pressures in the field. A helicopter could be a long way from base and have accidentally over flown a mandatory service. The temptation to fly back to base and cover it up with false entries in documentation is very hard to resist.

Author’s note. The complex issue associated with maintenance audits of helicopter operators is not discussed in this article. Helicopters are complex, high maintenance aircraft.



Instrument Flight Rules in Modern Helicopters: the future of IFR in Australia

Hello everyone.

The following is an interview I conducted with a former member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) who has recently retired from a position as a government auditor with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of Australia.  With the growth of helicopter usage in the Australian mining sector, I asked Rob about his thoughts on instrument flight rules (IFR) in modern helicopters and the future of IFR in Australia.

What are the impacts of a strong Aussie dollar on the helicopter industry?

Well, the strong Aussie dollar, while not great for our exporters (let alone the poor Americans!), is great news for the Australian helicopter industry. It means those in the market may be more inclined to purchase a new helicopter sooner, rather than later. This also means that organisations looking for larger aircraft are in an excellent position to negotiate the best possible deal. The result of course, is a lot more IFR capable, twin-engine helicopters finding their way to Australia. These types of helicopters however, mean a greater need for IFR qualified pilots and in many cases with twin-engine machines, two IFR qualified pilots! This can be both good and bad for young pilots.

Are suppliers meeting the global demand for new helicopters?

Helicopter manufacturers all seem to agree, there is a massive global demand for new helicopters and this means greater pressure on the suppliers to meet those demands. So, why is there a rapid and steady growth in helicopters? Well, despite the impacts of the global financial crisis, there has been a huge growth in the energy industry as the search for new mineral resources increases and energy deposits become more remote. Energy companies are putting greater resources into exploration and as we all know, this is best suited to a rotary aircraft. Despite the problems faced by other sectors around the world, the helicopter industry is actually growing!

Change is coming. Should we embrace it?

There is no doubt that the industry as we know it is changing. Sure, in the near future, you may very well be able to continue with your current qualifications and remain employable, but beyond that in the not too distant future, the industry is in for some change and unless you adapt now, you just may find yourself superseded.  As new, more modern, IFR capable helicopters reach Australia, the result will be a shortage of night and IFR qualified pilots to fly them (keeping in mind as was mentioned earlier, many of the twin-engine helicopters will actually need two qualified IFR pilots). This means Australian companies will be forced to recruit foreign pilots (and aircrews) with the necessary qualifications.  Aussie instructors are in short supply and well-qualified, experienced New Zealand instructors now actually outnumber our local instructors. This shortage of local skills is most likely due, in part at least, to foreign opportunities to fly large aircraft and to draw considerably higher wages and benefits in the Middle East. As with most industries facing a similar exodus of talent, CASA and the government seem unwilling to address the problem. This could be due to the fact they are both busy with airline training projects from Asia. The helicopter industry, by comparison, does not have the necessary resources to develop IFR training facilities needed in the short term.

With all indications the Australian mining economy will continue to improve, what affect does that have on the local helicopter industry?

Despite the global financial crisis, Australia’s mining economy is in quite healthy shape.  Industry is strong and there is such a high demand for skilled workers we actually now have a shortage in most industries. Inflation is under control and we have the lowest unemployment in forty years. So, how does this affect Australia’s rotary community?

The helicopter industry is usually quite susceptible to the health of the economy and when recessions hit, for example, we are usually the first to feel the effects and due to the nature of our business, we usually take the longest to recover.

Since the last recession (thank you Mr Keating!), the rotary community in Australia has had several decades of steady economic growth (about 2 to 3%). The result of course, is that we have an excellent base from which to build Australia’s helicopter industry even further, which is currently experiencing rapid growth at almost twice that of the economy itself. Government figures suggest that helicopter numbers have doubled in the last ten years and will double again in the next seven! That growth of course, is in heavier, IFR aircraft and there will be an even greater demand for qualified pilots to fly them.

What do the numbers mean for us?

There are currently over 1,930 helicopters in Australia with 203 of them (10%) twin-engine machines. By comparison, seven years ago there were only 1,420 helicopters locally with only 135 of those (9%), with twin-engines. Helicopter registrations over the past decade have averaged at around two new helicopters per week. The key here is the increase in twin-engine, IFR capable machines, with an increase of 50%, which is in direct contrast to the aeroplane general aviation register (GAR), where the number of light twins has actually decreased. Even the Australian Defence Force (ADF) admits civilian organisations will soon operate more twin-engine aircraft than the military, a fact that would have been hard to imagine a decade ago.

What has the past taught us?

History has taught us that almost half a century ago, the Australian aviation industry consisted of a collection of small airlines and rural charter companies that generally operated under visual flight rules (VFR). Navigation aids were not common back then and the aircraft were not usually configured for any real IFR work.  Things started to change when a large number of IFR capable, heavy twin-engine aircraft began finding their way to Australia and suddenly it became clear there was a shortage in IFR qualified aeroplane pilots to fly them and those that could, lacked overall experience. The statistics for that period indicate a sharp increase in accidents, a number of which were fatal, and aviation regulators were at a loss as to explain it all.

As is often the case with history, the pattern began to repeat itself with rotary operations within the last decade. The American experience highlighted that an increase in IFR and night training (even in VFR helicopters) could correct the dreadful Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) accident rate.

The lesson of course is in training. Pilots need the right training in the right conditions to effectively qualify as IFR pilots and to gain the necessary experience and confidence.

What can we apply lessons learnt from the past?

So, how do we take these lessons and apply them today? There are different standards around the world for gaining a commercial licence. In Australia, for example, students only need to clock 105 hours as opposed to the 150 hours required by our aeroplane counterparts, who include both night and IFR training as standard. New Zealand on the other hand, requires 150 hours but no night flying and an American commercial pilot’s licence requires 150 hours with some night flying. The Europeans have a much tougher standard with a higher focus on conditions where visual meteorological conditions (VMC) may not exist. Therefore, you can see there is a little consistency in gaining a commercial helicopter licence globally and overall, there is little emphasis on IFR.

Here in Australia, mustering operations account for over 40% of flying hours with many of those hours flown by Robinson R22 and R44 aircraft, both of which generally lack night or IFR instrumentation, as they are not required for mustering. Without the operational need for it, local pilots rarely seek out the additional training needed for night and IFR qualifications.

With night and IFR training absent from Australian courses, many pilots lack the marginal VMC skills to differentiate between VMC and Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The consequences for pilots (not to mention their passengers) who lack these skills can be fatal. In Australia, the past losses of R22 and other helicopters at night support this theory.

What does the increase in HEMS operational fatalities tell us?

In the recent past, both here in Australia and internationally, there has been a number of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) accidents occurring at night. In America, for example, there was a period where they were experiencing weekly HEMS accidents at night. With the advantage of hindsight, these statistics were no surprise. This was mainly due to the rapid expansion of the HEMS industry operating night capable machines, often in marginal night VFR conditions. How did this happen? Well, some pilots, rated only for night flying tried to bend the rules to fly IFR under ‘Mercy Flight’ rules. Again, we come back to a lack of training in IFR flight and the pressures on the industry to find qualified pilots. This still leaves us with our current problem. Where do we find IFR rated pilots, how do we train them and how do we supervise them on the job?

Does the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) back this up?

Well, yes it does! The ATSB often produce reports on HEMS operations in America and Australia. The subjects of these reports usually involve pilot/weather-related decision-making and VFR-rated pilots transitioning from VMC to IMC flight. The reports highlight incidents where an experienced non-IFR pilot attempted to fly in IMC conditions and occasionally made an unauthorised instrument approach.

What do the EMS statistics tell us about the need IFR rating and night flying skills?

American statistics show that 48% of all HEMS helicopter and 68% of all other fatal flying accidents occurred at night. They also tell us that 17% of accidents occurred in IMC and of these, 77% were fatal. All but one accident occurred during single pilot operations. Despite the fact that flying at night more than tripled the risk of fatalities in HEMS helicopter accidents, and flying in bad weather increased the risks by eight, we still fail to address this need when training rotary pilots! These statistics indicate that one HEMS helicopter in America is at risk of an accident over a 15 year period of service. Not great odds.

One of these reports examined many issues including:

  • The pilot’s decision-making
  • Their overall experience
  • Their background and operational issues within the company.

The report highlighted weather as a major factor in aviation accidents and the greatest cause for concern in aviation safety. It also highlighted that the transition from VFR flight into IMC conditions represented the greatest threat to flight safety.

In addition, operators and indeed, customers, should consider the risks involved in night VFR operations and if it is appropriate to use helicopters that are not configured for IFR flight as well as non-instrument rated pilots. If they do consider it appropriate, then it is up to the operator to have robust procedures and training in place to address the risks. This may include the use of Night Vision Devices, though pilots need to be aware of their limitations and need the proper training, procedures to follow and close monitoring of their use.

How do we move forward?

The industry should encourage new pilots to gain their IREX qualification and maybe a night rating as early in their career as possible. While there are many organisations that provide IREX training, our industry is poorly equipped to provide the appropriate night training pilots need. As well as these issues, there is a shortfall of local helicopter schools equipped to train pilots in IFR, and the cost of flight training remains a major obstacle for some pilots.

In light of the safety issues I have highlighted in this article, perhaps it is time for the government to introduce some form of assistance or student loan so pilots can gain the skills necessary to ensure the safety of our pilots and customers and that Australian pilots are available to meet the impending arrival of new, IFR cable helicopters?

Understanding the helicopter culture: a guide for aviation auditors (part 1)

Understanding the helicopter culture – a guide for aviation auditors.

By Rob Rich


Part one – Australasian expansion causing growing pains

Author’s introduction. Experienced auditors know from experience that managers and staff associated with a helicopter company often approach compliance issues differently when compared to their aeroplane counterparts.  In this three-part series, we will examine the problems arising from the accelerating expansion of the rotorcraft industry; not only in numbers but also with new roles being created by the introduction of very expensive and sophisticated technology, unheard of a decade ago. We will examine the career structure a typical helicopter manager and see how a very different philosophy about regulatory issues may exist. A clue is age, and the need to be more self-reliant in remote areas.  Finally, we will look at the opportunities arising for both consultants and auditors in Asia. For example, the enormous demands now being placed upon a very small and inexperienced group of helicopter executives in China. This follows the release of China’s low level air space by the military to allow the development of general aviation in China. Several fatal accidents can be traced to this shortcoming.

March 2012 data from the CASA Aircraft Register indicates the Australian helicopter fleet will exceed two thousand by September 2012. Australia has a population of 22.8 million and our neighbour, New Zealand has the same population as Queensland with 4.4 million. Australia operates 14,700 aircraft of which 1,937 are helicopters. Interestingly, the helicopter fleet has 205 multi-engine machines, a marked increase over five years. By comparison, New Zealand has 4,600 aircraft, 780 are helicopters. This includes 90 multi-engine machines. New Zealand leads the world for helicopter ownership per head of population. (It has twice the ownership rate of Australia).

On the world stage, Australia is rated sixth (1,937) and New Zealand tenth (780). Looking to the north to Asia, there are very few helicopters. China has only 150, Thailand and Malaysia total less than 100 each, and PNG probably has 200. India would have only one third of New Zealand’s total, say less than 300.

Auditors should be aware the Australian aircraft fleet has grown from 13,000 in 2006 (six years ago) to almost 15,000 today. The number of Air Operators Certificates (AOC) in general aviation has increased from 472 to 527 in that time, an increase of around 12% or just over 2% per year, slightly less than Australia’s GDP. The growth in helicopter AOCs has been significant; however, aeroplane operators are not enjoying the same opportunities.

When helicopter numbers are considered alone, an outstanding growth pattern appears. This causes problems which will be noted in your audits, mainly due to a diminishing level of experience in senior management. The saving grace is CASA, who has been much tougher on the helicopter operators in recent years. As a result non-compliance issues have been harder to ignore. The rather poor helicopter accident rate, identified by the ATSB was a catalyst in this process.

Overall, aeroplane registrations increased by 1,000 or 8.5% for the period. An aeroplane salesman would note the increase is actually 1.4% each year, or about half the GDP or less. A glum observation indeed!

By comparison the helicopter fleet increased by 700 over the six year period; an increase of 53% or almost 9% each year. In the previous decade it was noted aeroplane registrations were not growing in line with our GDP. A good prompt for those opposed to the closing of some of our secondary airports so developers can turn a good profit selling industrial land!

The good news for the helicopter industry is their growth is around three times Australia’s GDP. This is one third better than at the beginning of the past decade. Today, the Australian helicopter growth rate is almost six times greater than the aeroplane rate.

International observers have stated, “Although you have a large helicopter fleet; it is dominated by light helicopters”. They are correct as 62% of the Australian fleet is piston powered. The Robinson R22 (two seats) and the Robinson R44 (four seats) now number around 1,000 or 52% of the light helicopters. The remaining 12% are older types being used in the mustering industry.

Across the Tasman things the growth of helicopter activity was similar to ours in 2006. Then the GFC arrived in 2008, along with the collapse of the Asian tourist market. The terrible Christchurch earth quake further damaged the NZ tourist industry. Today, the growth rate in New Zealand has fallen to around 3% per year. It is still a good growth rate, over twice the struggling NZ GDP. Even so, it is not as exciting as the accelerating Australian opportunities. As a result some Australian operators hire NZ aircrew.

The CAA NZ has a different approach to the training needs and regulatory compliance of their rotary wing clients; as a result it appears the helicopter accident rate is substantially lower than in Australia. Three decades ago, the New Zealand helicopter accident rate was almost out of control due to the financial opportunities in the deer capturing industry. Today, the picture is different; Australian regulators could learn a few things from the CAA NZ who tend to educate more rather than prosecute!

A point often missed by commentators is private ownership. A comparison of aeroplane and helicopter ownership shows that 65% of GA aeroplanes were privately owned in 2006. Today, this figure has fallen to 42% for aeroplanes. By comparison, only 15% of helicopters are privately owned. The high cost of ownership, slower cruising speeds, limited payloads and range, more demanding training and currency needs, with operating costs double that of a light aircraft makes private ownership less attractive.

Auditors need to be careful when comparing aeroplane and helicopters data. For example, many private helicopter operations are really commercial in nature due to cattle property owners swapping the trusty Cessna runabout for a Robinson helicopter, which is more suitable for mustering than a small aeroplane, despite the additional cost. Some private helicopters clock up more than 1,000 hours each year!

Australian single engine machines are doing well, the Robinson Helicopter Company products total 974 in Australia of which 517 are R22 and 457 R44 models. The rapid increase in the R44 fleet, especially with private owners is following a worldwide trend. Trailing the Robinson fleet in Australia are the Bell 47 (90), Rotorway (58) and Hughes/Schweizer 269 (53).  New Zealand also has a sizable piston engine fleet. Leading is the R44 (166), R22 (122) and Hughes 269 (39).

Australian single engine turbine helicopters show the Bell 206 (225) is still the leader. Following are the Hughes 369 (157); AS350 (136) and Eurocopter 120 (26). In New Zealand, Hughes/Schweizer 369 (96) has taken first place from the AS350 (90). There are also Bell 206 (59), and Eurocopter 120 (12) machines on the NZ register. The major change in NZ has been the outstanding success of the R44 piston helicopter in the tourist industry, pushing many of the turbine machines aside in the tourist starved economy.

Future auditing requirements will be driven by the use of twin-engine helicopters; many are now fully IFR and multi-crew. Checking an operator using twin engine helicopters needs care, as this segment of the aviation industry is relatively new. Globally, the accident rate amongst operators of the heavier helicopters has been subject to various high visibility reviews. The SAR and HEMS industry loss rate in the USA is almost catastrophic, and Australia has not escaped the cultural attitudes that caused these types of accidents in Australia in recent years.

It must be emphasised the role of the future auditors and associated management consultants is to ensure the pending changes to Safety Management Systems are correctly documented in company compliance manuals and the auditing company has the skills to convince the senior management team they must change and implement the new systems, soon to be law.

As an aside, a great opportunity for creating training schools for senior executives will soon exist. The authors experience around the world; in particular, with the US, UK, Australian military and CASA, shows when ruthless supervision was applied to all levels of management – a safe operation was the reward.

However, senior management and line supervisors must be provided with dynamic and effective training which includes risk management and accident avoidance techniques. The author also noted during his time with the US Army they had a very similar simple system which was very effective. If a pilot had an accident, they often fired the supervisor. As a result their training divisions often managed to fly 170,000 flying hours in training at low level by day and night without a minor incident.

More to follow in Part 2 where will cover the people who make up this complex industry and look at their strengths and weaknesses from an auditor’s perspective.  


Welcome to the blog of Mat Petrenko

Welcome to my blog – suitably named the Captains Blog!

The views expressed here are my own and are not intended to offend. They are intended however to express my views, opinions and general view of the aviation world.

A little about me (alright, a lot!):

As CEO of ASSET Aviation, I am passionate about aviation training.

I am a professional aviation executive, airline pilot and instructor. I am a certified Flight Safety Foundation BARS auditor and IATA registered instructor.

I work with airlines, governments and resources companies, providing advice and strategic support in all aspects of aviation safety and training.  I undertake operational audits and also management and training audits to maximise the safety and efficiency of operators.  I work with training departments and pilots from major airlines delivering courses such as Safety Management, Pilot Training syllabus Design, Emergency Procedures and Crew Resource Management (CRM).

I am currently completing Doctoral research (University of NSW) into training system designs that integrate CRM principles into LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training) scenarios for Russian flight crew.

My Resume: 

Prior to joining ASSET Aviation, I was the Aviation Supervisor Russia for ExxonMobil (Neftegas) in the Russian Far East – one of the most challenging aviation terrains in the world.  I was responsible for developing, implementing and managing the company medical and emergency air evacuation plan, aerial survey plans and logistics, on-demand flights, internal auditing, safety, staff training etc.

I implemented an Operational Integrity Management System and Control Integrity Management System into the department and implemented a risk assessment program for fixed wing, rotary, offshore, search and rescue and emergency operations, including high-risk night helicopter emergency services.  I also successfully negotiated lease terms for jet aircraft and airport terminal slots in Japan, landing approvals for scheduled and non-scheduled flights and was a key member of the crisis management team.

As part of my flying career, I have held positions such as Fleet Manager and Captain for regional Australian airlines, Captain for a major Australian carrier, Captain for an international Corporate Jet Charter company and International medical evacuation pilot and as an ab-initio and senior instructor in Australia’s general aviation sector.

My aviation career began when I won the Sir Reginald Ansett flying Scholarship in 1985.

For all my qualifications click on the About Me tab above.

I look forward to sharing my views and opinions with you on all things aviation on an ongoing basis. Thank you for reading my first blog!