By Matt Zuccaro - As you are aware, safety is my favorite topic, as I believe it ultimately affects everything we do in our industry — both in the present and for the future. With this in mind, you would think all owner/operators would have a laser focus on this issue, making it their number one decision criteria. In a perfect world that would be true, but last time I checked not everything we want occurs in the bright reality of day-to-day operations. However, it does not have to be that way.
I have written regarding the role of pilots, mechanics, and customers within the safety culture we are attempting to create. However, owner/operators and their representative management teams are driving the safety train that the rest of us are passengers on. This group is ultimately in control through their establishment and maintenance of an appropriate safety culture and long-term strategy. Admittedly, they have an onerous job in holding the safety line in the face of numerous considerations that they must deal with. Unfortunately, sometimes the thinking is that safety is an expensive intangible (especially when the operator has no recent accident history), and in some instances can be a potential competitive disadvantage. How can safety create a potential competitive disadvantage you ask?
Imagine five operators in a particular operating area or specific mission profile. One of them decides to step up to a higher standard by implementing a safety initiative that goes beyond the regulatory requirements and current industry norm. The operator accepts the additional costs of this safety initiative as part of their commitment to provide customers and staff with the safest operating environment they can create. The reality now becomes the operator’s need to market their service, inclusive of the additional safety costs, into an established competitive marketplace. Absent an educated consumer base, and/or the presence of clients who are cost driven and measure safety by basic regulatory compliance, our safety-oriented operator may now find himself at a competitive disadvantage. Especially when other operators do not embrace the new safety effort, but instead consider their operating profile and ability to deliver the service while incurring less expense, a competitive advantage.
As a collective industry, no pun intended, our options to elevate the safety standards we aspire to should include such initiatives as voluntary safety consensus among operators, cooperative client education and implementation of safety protocols, and the less desirable regulatory and/or legislative mandates. The good news is that many segments of our industry are working towards an industry consensus regarding what the safety playing field should be. However, in some segments regulatory mandates will be required to achieve our safety goals.
Such programs as the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) have created a global desire and initiative to reduce the helicopter accident rate via a data driven program, with a subsequent education and safety implementation effort. Although such programs are beneficial, we will always find ourselves coming back to the owner/operators and associated management teams.
Our success with safety will be measured by the day-to-day commitment of the operators and their ability to hold the safety line, making safety the number one priority above all else. It means the operator must establish a proper safety culture and maintain their commitment to it, even in the face of an unsatisfied customer or potential negative effect on business. It also means that operators must involve their field staff, such as pilots and maintenance technicians, since they are the individuals performing the job every day, have the best understanding of the problems, and can offer potential solutions.
In a final note; I think it is critical that operators unhesitatingly express their commitment to safety at all times — not just when it is convenient, but when it means making those tough decisions. A safety program based on false commitments and lip service is more detrimental than no safety program at all.
Ultimately, it means you do the right thing all the time. I did not say this was going to be easy, but at the end of the day it will be the best decision you make.
What are your thoughts — I sincerely want to know. Whether you agree or disagree, email me at