In response to recent challenges, we have seen increasing collaboration on safety across the aviation sector. More importantly, we have seen significant progress can be made when different operators work with an aligned vision around safety and its management.
In 2014, after a fairly tumultuous period of accidents across the offshore helicopter community, some of the largest players in the market formed an organization called HeliOffshore. The organization started small and had a single and straightforward vision: A safer frontline served by an open, responsive and aligned industry so, “no lives are lost in offshore aviation.”
Funded by the operators themselves, the group saw the benefit of working together with a common safety goal. After all, they were largely focused on the same issues and several mature conversations amongst their leaders and safety teams made it very clear that an accident in the collective industry hurt them all – in every sense. So, the simple realization of putting commercial competition aside when it came to safety, created the genesis of an organization that now enjoys a membership of around 125 members, made up of helicopter operators, leasing companies, aircraft manufacturers, brokers and underwriters, as well as end-users, such us offshore energy companies and other subject matter experts.
Together, they agree what areas they want to look at, identify the expertise that they need to address the chosen topics, as well as reacting to the various emerging issues of the industry. Working together they bring in subject matter experts, secure the funding and set in place a workstream to deliver the output.
Of particular relevance to our segment of the industry is that the organization has expanded and now includes an Insurance Sub Committee (ISC). The ISC recognizes the key role that underwriters and brokers have in both influencing operators in adopting best practice guidelines and in helping HeliOffshore expand to new areas where their reach may not be historically strong.
Recent output from the ISC includes a common template for operators to use when preparing for their renewal process; promoting the use of common themes, layout, and the provision of standardized data is all aimed at stimulating more meaningful conversations on what risks are sitting in the operation and what ideas, technology, etc are being applied to mitigate that risk.
For clients, participation in organizations like HeliOffshore arguably sits well in the eyes of the market; being a member allows the operator to stay connected to the latest thinking. Being an ‘active’ member - who is contributing to the various workstreams - arguably shows an even more mature organization, that is willing to roll its sleeves up and contribute to improving safety, thereby lowering the risk within the operation.
It sounds simple but, when you consider that this is a voluntary group made up of historically competitive parties, working side by side on areas of shared safety interests, it could be looked upon as ground-breaking – even 8 years after its inception.
In the United States, there is another organization that, since 2009, has represented the air medical operators of the rotary industry. The Air Medical Operators Association (AMOA), has another clearly stated aim: “Working to improve the safe operation of air medical transportation”.
AMOA has also seen the benefit of working together on topics such as crashworthy fuel tanks and, more recently, on landing zone hazard awareness.
Having identified that too many incidents and accidents were occurring across that vast continent in their common part of the business, they set out to work together to look at design and layout of helideck areas – in effect, what did good look like.
Other organizations exist in the general aviation world (such as the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) for business jet operators) and they have the same underlying collaborative principles at heart. Their focus might be slightly different – more regulatory than ‘pure safety’, given that their safety record doesn’t cry out for the same urgency as the rotary world – but, nevertheless, they are seeing the benefit of dropping commercial competition for the ‘greater good’ of the industry’s sustainability.
Having seen the success and energy of these collaborative organizations, it is difficult to imagine a world where operators and sub-groups disappear back into the ‘siloed’ world from whence they came.
Arguably, as safety records improve, the natural evolution might be to forget why the organizations came into being in the first place but, we are still some way from perfect in terms of safety and so, organizations like HeliOffshore, AMOA, NBAA and EBAA still provide tangible forums for lowering the risk within the general aviation industry.
There are areas of the world that remain slightly less engaged in these organizations. There is also a range of ‘proactive’ versus ‘reactive’ membership within the organizations themselves. Being aware of their existence and understanding what their collective goals and objectives are, is a start; promoting their work to those that can contribute would seem sensible if we are to move the safety needle in the right direction.
More collaborative working and sharing of best practice can only help. There will, of course, always be a degree of competitive advantage in the safety sphere where operators who are investing time, effort and resources into developing their own ‘brand’ of safety will understandably wish to be recognized on the commercial field for their commitments; however, as we have seen from the likes of HeliOffshore and AMOA, working as part of an aviation safety partnership approach brings benefits to all and is ultimately aimed at avoiding an unacceptable alternative.