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My Two Cents Worth  by Randy Mains

It appears the Australians put a higher value on patient safety than our FAA, NTSB and even Congress.  That’s a pretty strong statement, isn’t it?  Let me tell you how I arrived at that conclusion.

When my article “The Power of CRM” appeared in the August 2013 issue of Rotorcraft Pro my wife, Kaye, and I were in Australia, flown there by the Aeromedical Society of Australasia so that I could deliver two keynote speeches at their 25th scientific meeting of HEMS operators. 

My first keynote address was entitled “US Aeromedical Accidents – What can Australasian HEMS learn from our Mistakes?”  On the second day I delivered a keynote address entitled “CRM in Aeromedical Operations - Why CRM/AMRM (Air Medical Resource Management) is Absolutely Vital to HEMS Safety.” 

On day two of the conference, a Mr. Philip Hogan, announced that legislation is in the works by their Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) that will make their HEMS programs safer by making it mandatory for all air ambulance programs in Australia, helicopter and fixed-wing, to conform to part 121 airline standards of operation.  What that means for Australian HEMS includes mandating the use of twin-engine, fully IFR, category A, Class 1 performance helicopters using two flight crew. 

Their action shines a spotlight on the high moral thinking of the Australians who put lives before dollars because, as Phil said in his speech, “A patient does not have a choice to decide if they want to ‘buy a ticket’ to accept a certain level of risk by being transported on a HEMS helicopter, so those patients who cannot choose for themselves, must be given the highest level of safety that can be afforded to them.”  Wow! 

The reality is that 90% of the HEMS programs in Australia already voluntarily comply with the high airline standard.  The operators do so for safety reasons.  This rulemaking will force those operators not already operating at the higher standard to comply.  In my mind, enacting similar legislation in America would most certainly stem the terrible accident rate that has plagued the industry for the past 34 years. 

While at the conference I received a very enlightening e-mail from retired Continental Airlines pilot, Mike Brezden, who’d read the article I’d written that month on CRM in the August issue of Rotorcraft Pro.  What he wrote is well worth noting here, and he has given me permission to pass along his observations to you.  He wrote:

I too, flew as a pilot in a helicopter EMS program early in my career (1982-1984). Sadly, not much has changed in the industry. I left that position, got my fixed-wing ratings, and went on to a 23-year career with Continental Airlines. I consider CRM training at Continental the single most important training I've ever received in aviation. It works.

I'm glad to hear that CRM training is now mandated in the helicopter EMS industry. Any additional awareness on the part of the flight crews will help, but unfortunately, until management is willing to spend the money to make twin-engine IFR the norm, I suspect the accident rate will remain high. Adding a second pilot would reduce the accident rate even further.

If I could offer any advice it would be to try to get the message across that CRM is a radical change in lifestyle. It's something that will take effort on the part of all involved and probably won't come naturally, especially in stressful situations. At Continental Airlines it was a central part of our recurrent ground training every year. Additionally, once we ‘got it’ it was the only way we flew, both in the simulator and on the line. In training, there was no such thing as one pilot passing a check ride and the other failing, as sometimes happened in the old days. You were now a team. We used to joke that there is no such thing as ‘Your side of our airplane is about to crash.’

And most importantly if someone speaks up, tell people not to take it personally. There are some super-sensitive egos in this business, and they bruise easily. Team members must learn how to say things without sounding critical, and they also must learn how to accept and encourage such challenges. That's by far the toughest part of this whole CRM concept.

As far as your ideas about two crew, IFR currency, and single engine VFR at night: I agree 110%. Last fall things worked out where I flew 16 hours in a Bell 407 with our mutual friend, Tom Einhorn. I really enjoyed that, and realized how much I missed it. I started asking around with some local EMS programs what jobs were available, and what the employment conditions were like. I was soon offered a job flying a single engine helicopter.

I really wanted to get back into flying helicopters and was tempted to take the job, but declined the offer. A major factor in my decision being I considered it too dangerous to routinely fly a single engine, single pilot, VFR equipped aircraft at night.

I'm a 21,000-hour pilot with ATPs in both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.  I have instrument instructor certificates in both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and many, many hours of night and IFR flying; and yet, I thought that job presented too great a risk. I'm very confident in my skills as a pilot, but at this point in my life, I have nothing to prove to anyone.  

I wish you the best of luck with your CRM training.

Mike Brezden
Continental Airlines, retired

Mike went on to say that I should not discount the power of CRM to reduce accidents in our HEMS industry, and I concur.  Even if we do not adopt the Australian model of operating to airline standards, CRM can make a difference to save lives because, after all, CRM is the last line of defense we have for preventing accidents.
 

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