Formal protocols were quickly established on how staff should act and behave in the workplace to keep everyone safe. Colleagues in flight operations, ground operations, engineering, safety and other functions worked together to shape and implement a robust response to an entirely new problem.
- Rigorous social distancing and mask-wearing rules on all bases, supported by a regular air crew testing programme;
- New barrier solutions between aircraft cockpits and cabins to minimise onboard circulation of the virus;
- Meticulous processes for managing flights carrying Covid-19 patients from offshore – at peak, CHC was conducting around two such flights daily; and
- Continuously adapting procedure manuals as knowledge of the virus developed.
The organisation went the extra mile to keep its assets flying in the face of unprecedented challenges; as exemplified by the various steps taken to ensure it maintained a critical mass of air crew while safeguarding the health of passengers.
“We grabbed the bull by the horns and devised a robust initial plan which evolved as time went on, based on new information and guidance,” says Flight Operations Manager, Harry Bos.
“It was a fundamental change to how things were run, but it was all focused on minimising risk for everyone. I believe that initial response helped us avoid any widespread outbreaks and kept our operations on the move. Those were the most important things – to protect people and support customers relying on us.”
Close collaboration with industry organisations, regulators and peer companies ensured everyone was able to share and embrace best practice.
And Harry – who has frequently led by example in crewing Covid-19 flights – pays tribute to the way in which air crews dealt with this new operational landscape: “We kept everyone informed from the outset on our strategy and quickly communicated any changes as time went on. Everyone was great in taking these challenges on board. They showed enormous flexibility and were always prepared to take the extra steps required to keep everyone safe.”
That resolve to maintain operational continuity was equally evident in the air crew training arena.
Covid-19 meant an immediate hard-stop on most international travel – and that required CHC to formulate and roll-out a plan to ensure its air crews could continue to fly its assets.
CHC places a lot of emphasis on simulator training in a network of global facilities to keep air crew fully trained and their necessary competencies and proficiencies valid. The halt on travel meant many air crew colleagues could no longer make the journey to simulators.
The organisation quickly engaged with national aviation authorities to find a temporary solution to keep crew members active.
The outcome was a risk assessment-based solution that took into account air crew experience levels alongside their recent training background and the wider training credentials of CHC. This resulted in time-limited extensions of expiries and the delivery of alternative training programs.
Augmented by additional online training – to replace classroom training – and a commitment to resume simulator training as soon as practicable, the organisation was able to avoid the prospect of large numbers of crew members being temporarily grounded.
“We were able to show we had mitigated risk to the absolute minimum and ensured that our air crews remained proficient to fly,” says Head of Flight Training Dennis Groeneveld. “Everything revolved around ensuring we had enough crews qualified to fly from our bases – so our day-to-day support for critical offshore oil and gas operations and Search-and Rescue services, for example, were never compromised.”
CHC was among the first operators to resume simulator training on a wider basis once travel restrictions allowed essential personnel to travel. That in turn entailed developing an in-depth process to support safe and compliant transit and accommodation arrangements and simulator protocols for its people, amid an ever-changing restrictions environment.
“The period between September 2020 and the end of 2021 was particularly challenging as different countries came in and out of lockdown measures at different times, but our degree of planning meant we were never caught by surprise,” adds Dennis.
CHC expanded its network of simulators during the pandemic with the support of its training partner CAE and other vendors to provide further resilience behind its training regime.
“It was a highly collaborative effort across our organisation, vendors and regulators, with multiple parts of the business contributing to ensure we could make it all work,” says Dennis. “It was a genuinely exceptional time – and it required an equally exceptional flexibility and commitment from our air crews, trainers, planners and management which has allowed us to meet the challenge.”