A pioneering approach to flight safety

A pioneering approach to flight safety 25 Feb, 18, Source: CHC

Led by Jon Hopkinson, the CHC Global Standards team takes a pioneering approach as they push for continuous improvement in safety in rotorcraft.

In 2011, CHC Helicopter decided to maximise the benefits it could take from its global operational and safety incident reporting experience by incorporating all AOCs under a single centralised corporate flight operation structure and established the Global Standards organization.

As a founding member of HeliOffshore, the global safety association for the offshore helicopter industry, CHC continues to work to ensure the most stringent safety processes underpin our daily operations. Part of that journey has seen CHC become the first offshore helicopter operator to adopt Line Observation Safety Audits (LOSA) across its global operations. CHC’s adoption of Line Observation Safety Audits across our onshore and offshore missions serves to underline our total commitment to safe operations

Based on the concept of Threat and Error Management, LOSA has been specifically developed to improve safety and knowledge exchange across the entire aviation industry. Put simply, it’s a system in which trained line pilots act as passive observers, identifying areas of strength and weakness not only from a crew training perspective, but also in terms of better understanding the human factors at play in a cockpit environment.

Since the mid-1990s, the LOSA system has been widely adopted by commercial fixed wing operators, accruing more than 25,000 observations during that time. More recently, it has been adapted for rotary wing applications, initially focused on onshore Emergency Medical Services (EMS) missions. Following a successful pilot project, the LOSA system was adapted for offshore operators in 2016.

“CHC’s Standards team is leading the industry with significantly improved and harmonised standards and a unique approach to delivery of continuous improvement in both standards and safety,” explains Jon Hopkinson, Director, Flight Standards. “We started talking to the LOSA Collaborative about four years ago as we became aware of the LOSA Collaborative’s desire to extend the system to offshore rotary operations, but it was a significant piece of work. Mission profiles are completely different to onshore operations. The threats are completely different.

“LOSA looks at threats and errors in the cockpit,” adds Jon. “Threats are external to the pilot’s influence; issues with the weather, other aircraft, air traffic control or the helideck. Errors relate to issues internal to the cockpit. We are all human and while rare, errors can occur. It’s how we, as crews, react that counts. We need to first detect the error and then manage it to minimise its consequence.”

CHC, in conjunction with our HeliOffshore partners Babcock, began selecting our first cohort of LOSA-trained observers in autumn 2016. Under the expert guidance of the LOSA Collaborative, our volunteer observers were put through a training course, equipping everyone with the skills needed to observe normal operations through the lens of Threat and Error Management (TEM).

“It’s important to note it’s not a checklist; that would make it a compliance audit, which is something we’re not focused on,” explains Jon. “An audit looks at the processes you already have in place and we would expect our crews to already be doing that. LOSA will pick up any non-compliance issues of course, but we want to examine what threats and errors occur in operations and how our crews are equipped to manage them.

“It allows CHC to understand threats and errors in a much more detailed way, backed up by real data, providing the essential empirical evidence we need for changing existing processes.”

At the heart of the LOSA system is openness. The ‘fly-on-the-wall’ observations are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, helping to ensure crews are observed in their most natural and relaxed state. Observations are delivered in collaboration with customers and crews who can, if they wish, decline to take part on any given day. Observers sit in the jump seat, equipped with nothing more than a small notepad and pencil.

As Jon highlights, trust is essential to the process. “At the end of a flight, the crew could ask to see what the observer has recorded, and in fact, on several occasions the crew themselves have then said, ‘Here’s a couple more points to add to your notes’.”

It’s at the end of each flight that the hard work really beings. The observer then enters their notes online, a process that combines taxonomy and narrative to provide high quality data for later use by the LOSA Collaborative in its analysis. “Typically, that write-up process takes longer than the flight,” adds Jon. No names, flight numbers, dates or locations are recorded. The observations are completely anonymised.

“This is an essential safety programme; a fact well understood by our crews who welcome the opportunity to support LOSA and learn from it,” stresses Jon.

The work is delivered in cycles, involving extensive work-up periods and six to eight weeks of observations. This is followed by analysis and the identification of any corrective actions. At the completion of one cycle, work commences on the next phase.

With the first cycle of LOSA observations now complete, encompassing flights in Scotland, England and The Netherlands, CHC is looking ahead to deliver a global LOSA programme.

“In our first cycle, we focused on oil and gas operations and recorded 50 observations, which covered 137 sectors (or flight legs) in total,” says Jon. “We’re now preparing for our second cycle in Australia, which will go live in April 2018, and will encompass both oil and gas and EMS missions. We’re just starting the observer selection process now, engaging with unions and customers, before moving on to final selection.”

As more offshore operators recognise and embrace the safety benefits of LOSA, the depth of available data is likely to grow rapidly, adding even greater value to the system. In the meantime, thanks to CHC’s pioneering approach and our unique harmonised standards and global centres of excellence, the lessons being garnered from our own high fidelity LOSA data can be disseminated across the business. The resulting improvements underline our commitment to Reach Beyond when it comes to safety, helping to ensure the safety of our passengers and aircraft, at all times.

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