Commercial helicopter services were still very much in their pioneering phase in the late 1940s when the enterprise in which CHC has its roots was founded.
So too, therefore, was the regulatory environment which governed their activities. Regulators were focused primarily on the engineering side of things and, like the industry itself, they were still learning. Inevitably, many of those learnings stemmed from circumstances where something had gone wrong.
Over the subsequent years the safety agenda grew, with emerging thinking supporting the introduction of concepts not only in the engineering (airworthiness and maintenance) areas but also with flight operations and training practices assuming an ever greater profile.
But it really took some time – several decades, in fact – before the safety and quality landscape that we recognise today really began to take shape.
Transformative to that process was the introduction of the safety management system (SMS) to underpin helicopter services. For the first time, operators had a formal tool that connected all areas of their business when it came to safety; one that supported an integrated approach to identifying risks and dealing with them proactively wherever possible.
It had taken a while for the SMS to become part of the rotorcraft world; as has traditionally been the case in the aviation industry, the fixed-wing sector had led the way. But it has become absolutely central to helicopter operations. At CHC, we’re now on the third version of our SMS software supporting system as we’ve sought to harness technological advances to their fullest extent.
Like others, we’ve also strengthened our safety-focused capabilities through tools such as smarter software and training for risk management, through investing in an internal investigation capability, and through deploying established industry models to more fully understand and embrace the human factors dimension.
So what else has happened in the safety realm in the modern era?
For our part, we’re proud to have introduced the CHC Safety & Quality Summit in the mid-2000s, as a means for industry professionals from around the world to get together, discuss key issues and promote excellence in performance. It’s gone from strength to strength, and our 2022 conference in Dallas in October promises to be another value-adding forum.
There is a prevailing spirit of industry-wide collaboration at these annual summits, and that culture is further underpinned today by the work of the safety-focused association called HeliOffshore. We’re proud that CHC was among the operators which founded an organisation that’s all about working together to enhance safety, and we continue to play an active role in several of its workstreams.
These developments have helped to determine a new strategic direction for helicopter safety, and their common themes of visibility, transparency and joined-up working are, I believe, helping to drive positive performance trends.
One such positive trend is our very strong safety reporting rates, and that can only stem from staff feeling comfortable and confident when it comes to highlighting potential or actual issues.
The ‘potential’ element of that trend is interesting. Around one-third of our reports today are proactive: people are raising issues which they believe could compromise our performance so that we’re able, when required, to get ahead of the game and address risks before they cause problems. It’s hugely encouraging to see that sense of a shared safety endeavour extend beyond the organisational level and empower more and more individuals to contribute.
Further underpinning this culture are programmes which focus specifically on people welfare. Our HR-led employee wellbeing and assistance programmes support the physical and mental welfare of individual members of staff. They’re all about supporting people to take care of themselves and of each other, and represent another contributory factor – beyond the direct safety and quality effort – to the low incident rates we have recorded in recent years.
There are many reasons, therefore, to look positively upon the safety journey we have completed over our history and over the past 25 years or so in particular, but we know we must always explore ways to do even better.
That’s why the principle of continual improvement is at the heart of CHC’s new Taking Care programme, which is designed to enable us to keep attaining new levels of performance across the business. From a safety perspective it’s focused on culture and leadership – and on how we can harness new technologies, processes and training opportunities to raise the bar again across all of our operations.
Continual improvement isn’t just an in-house priority, however; it’s part-and-parcel of the work within HeliOffshore, in our everyday engagement with customers and in our interactions with OEMs to capitalise on the potential of new technologies.
Again, there’s a common thread of collaboration through all those improvement activities: individual business units within the operator working together, the helicopter operator community moving the agenda forward as one, the wider industry collectively addressing new challenges and opportunities.
Long gone are the days when, in safety terms, operators functioned as entirely discrete entities. Today it’s about joint working – about sharing learnings, lessons and experiences. All with one goal: ever safer helicopter operations.