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What Price Safety?

Safety means different things to different people. For those of us who work on the helicopter side of the aviation industry, a good definition might be:

Safety is the state of being safe; the condition of being protected against consequences of failure, damage, error, accidents, harm or any other event which could be considered non-desirable. Safety can also be defined as the control of recognized hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk.

How do we achieve this acceptable level of risk? Our regulatory agencies and aircraft manufacturers specify strict inspection schedules and maintenance procedures. Depending on what the inspection calls for, a helicopter can be grounded for days or even weeks. An operator who is short on cash might be tempted to skip an inspection entirely to save money because an aircraft on the ground is not generating revenue. Safety costs money.

Helicopters in particular have a host of moving parts and lots of inspections. Some parts have life limits and must be replaced at a certain time regardless of what they look like. This is not done for fun; it is done to minimize the possibility of failing in flight. This is our acceptable level of risk.

Imagine if we had to operate our cars like the helicopters we work on. Since we drive our cars, we would have to have a physical exam from a designated physician every six months, just like flight crew. Every six to nine months, we would have to attend a one- to three-day ground school and then go through simulator training (on driving)

to demonstrate proficiency in normal, abnormal and emergency driving procedures. Don’t forget our in-car annual check ride and random drug test by the local police. On top of all that, once we reach age 65, we couldn’t drive anymore.

On the maintenance side of things, we would have to go for recurrent training as mandated by the regulatory agency, go to our car’s OEM for factory training and attend classes for IA renewal as applicable. Then, anytime we worked on our car or someone else did, we or they would have to sign their name in the car’s logbook as to exactly what they did. Then an inspector would look over the work and sign their name. Now what would it cost to own and operate a car?

Of course, the public would never go in for such measures just to operate a car, but that is exactly what we do in our business of working on and returning helicopters to flight status.

The price of safety is the cost of meeting or exceeding the maintenance standards set by our regulatory agencies and aircraft manufacturers. It is the cost of using only approved parts when removing and replacing them on the helicopter. It is adhering strictly to the inspection schedule for the helicopter. It is attending the appropriate class at the appropriate school to be qualified to do the work required.

As helicopter maintenance professionals, we work on helicopters that initially come with a hefty price tag and cost a lot of money to maintain and operate. It is not for the faint of heart (or wallet) to own one of these wonderful machines.  I often laugh to myself when I hear someone ask why it is so expensive to operate and maintain them. It’s a valid question and I would like to offer a valid answer … safety costs money.

In the business of working on and around helicopters, safety is not just a word — it is a state of being. It is a mindset and it should be a concern to all of us. Safety is job No. 1, as all too many safety regulations are written because someone was injured or killed on the job.

The Airborne Law Enforcement Association indicates that a safety management system (SMS) is key to effective and secure helicopter operations. The system includes a management plan, safety promotion procedures, document and data information management policies, occurrence and hazard reporting methodologies, safety assurance oversight programs and emergency preparedness techniques.

Do you have safety concerns where you work? Does your company have an SMS in place or in the works? How much thought do you give to safety while on the job? Share your thoughts with us at Helicopter Maintenance. We would like to hear from you.

R. Fred Polak | Editor