The Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC) is concerned about new industry-wide flight crew fatigue risk management recommendations that are tailored to large scheduled operators. One of the recommended changes is the adoption of a cumulative duty day, which the HAC said would prove disastrous for small operators. Shawn Evans Photo
A group of Canadian aviation industry associations, including the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC), has banded together to protest the recommendations made by a working group that was struck to evaluate and propose amendments to the countrys flight crew fatigue risk management system. According to HAC president and chief executive officer Fred Jones, the groups final recommendations (released on Aug. 15), are the result of an extremely unfair and unbalanced process that, when taken together, pose the greatest threat to the economic viability of our industry today.
The HAC has joined forces with four other industry associations, including the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), the Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA), the Manitoba Aviation Council (MAC) and the Northern Air Transport Association (NATA). Together, the five organizations represent the lions share of Canadian aviation operators that would be subject to the changes proposed in the working groups report. Despite this fact, however, Jones contended: Helicopter operators are bit players in this process, sadly, from our point of view. The issues under discussion and the recommendations which have been tabled cater principally to the interests of the large, scheduled air carriers. Very little variation exists for small operators helicopter, seasonal, float, or business aviation.
The Flight Crew Fatigue Management Working Group has roots going back to 2010, when it was struck by the Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council (CARAC) Technical Committee. Its purpose was to review and propose amendments to the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) relating to the management of flight crew fatigue. The working group had three main objectives, which included using the latest scientific data to review Canadas existing flight time and duty time limitations and mandatory rest periods. The goal was to develop regulatory proposals and amendments that would consider the countrys unique operating environment, making alternate recommendations for effective fatigue management where it was deemed necessary.
Led by co-chairs Capt. Dan Adamus, president of the Air Line Pilots Association Internationals Canada Board, and Transport Canadas Jacqueline Booth, chief of technical program evaluation and coordination, standards, the working group met 14 times between August 2010 and December 2011. Eleven industry organizations were members of the group, including airline pilot associations, Transport Canada, labor unions, and a variety of related bodies, including the HAC and its four allies. Several expert advisers were also in attendance, including a medical professional who contributed information about fatigue and its physical effects.
The HACs Jones said the current CARs serve helicopter operators quite well, even though they have a few warts. Initially, he got involved in the working group mainly to further aviation safety and clarify a few key areas. But instead of working within the existing CARs framework which clearly makes allowances for the different Canadian aviation operating environments he said the working groups co-chairs have made broad one-size-fits-all recommendations that have the potential to cause a lot of turbulence for small operators.
At this point, the groups recommendations are just that recommendations. But Jones likens the situation to a train that is coming down the track. Just because its three or four years down the line doesnt mean its not going to hurt when it arrives.
The small operator representatives participating in the working group have filed numerous objections to what they perceive as the co-chairs broad-brush approach, offering a series of possible segment-specific solutions instead. However, in their final dissent submitted to the working group leaders on Sept. 3, the five organizations maintain that, Not a single industry segment-specific proposal, even in a modified form, advanced by the signatory associations was adopted by the working group chairs in the final report.
The Devil is in the Details
So why should helicopter operators be concerned about the working groups recommendations for prescriptive flight, duty and rest periods, and corresponding fatigue risk management regulations?
Jones explained using an example: Under the existing CARs, a pilot could work 42 days straight with time off before and after. The industry norm in the helicopter industry is more like 30-day tours, but it may be slightly longer than that, and there is some flexibility in there. However, the recommendation in the working group report proposes a maximum of 15 days on, and five off. That is a radical departure from what operators are doing today quite safely, I might add! That is just one example where a one-size-fits-all solution doesnt work. If we had to implement the recommendations the way they are now, it would be necessary to double-crew helicopters in the field, and rotate crews in and out roughly two to three times as often as we do now.
Helicopter operators are unique in that many of their operations take place in remote regions of the country. The cost of switching out flight crews can be significant when it can take a full day just to travel to a job site.
Another contentious issue is the possible introduction of a cumulative duty hour requirement, which would be completely new to the CARs. Small operators are vehemently opposed to this plan, which would see pilots keeping track of how many hours theyve been on duty during a running period. Although current regulations place a cap on the number of hours that can be flown during set time periods, with duty days never exceeding 14 hours, Jones said that doesnt necessarily mean they are flying the whole time. Under a cumulative system, he said, Potentially you could have a pilot who flies an hour or two every day for a week, but has worked long duty days, who is then unable to fly on the eighth day. But he hasnt actually been operating an aircraft for that entire time. We agree theres got to be a limit on the duty day, but in our view theres no need for a cumulative duty day requirement.
Small operators who do multiple takeoffs and landings medevac helicopters, for example could see their duty days reduced according to the number of sectors, or legs, flown on each trip. If they happen to start their day within the time frame that disrupts the bodys natural circadian rhythm (2 a.m. to 6 a.m.), then that duty day will be further reduced. Rules tailored for specific industry sectors, such as those for heli-logging, will be removed and those companies will need to conform to the rules like every other operator.
As for mandatory rest periods, the working group co-chairs are recommending they be increased in some cases. To accommodate eight hours of sleep plus time for eating and personal care while away from home base, the co-chairs are recommending a minimum 10-hour rest period. However, while pilots are at home base this jumps to a recommended 12 hours, which theoretically allows pilots time to deal with family responsibilities. Jones pointed out that this framework could handicap operators whose pilots live close to the heliport, and in most cases 12 hours is unnecessary.
Currently, a pilots duty time is zeroed out after five or more consecutive days free from duty. Jones said evidence supports the fact that this time away from work eliminates fatigue, leaving the pilot refreshed upon their return to the job. Under the proposed changes, however, this zeroing of accumulated flight time will no longer be permitted.
All of these changes will necessitate a lot of monitoring and management. The complexity of the new rules, bluntly put, will be beyond the ability of flight crew members to manage in an unscheduled, on-demand, pilot self-dispatch environment, wrote the HAC and its allies in the groups combined letter of final dissent.
I think it will be extremely difficult to enforce. The proposals are so complicated. It will be a fiasco, said Jones. The airlines have crew scheduling departments, but most helicopter operators do not.
He added that the working groups proposals will have a negative cumulative effect on small operators. When you start applying one change on top of another, it constrains the operators ability to meet the demands of the customer. At that point, the operation becomes unsustainable.
Jones pointed out that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have both decided to abandon the one-size-fits-all approach to managing pilot fatigue. In both cases, regulations have been ironed out for large airlines, with those pertaining to smaller operators to be addressed at some point in the future. This, said the HAC president, will allow those regulatory bodies to tailor sector-specific solutions to different types of operations.
Theres no doubt that small Canadian aviation operations encounter unique challenges stemming from the countrys vast geography, extreme climate and varying daylight hours. The HAC wants to see the working groups recommendations acknowledge these operational differences.
We believe we [helicopter operators] are unique because our members largely depend on a short seasonal operation, explained Jones. In the north, particularly, they have extended daylight hours and a short season in which to earn the lions share of their entire annual revenue. They are as concerned about safety and fatigue as anybody, but the rules have got to accommodate the operational circumstances. However, they [the working group co-chairs] were not prepared to listen to the unique requirements of small Canadian operators.
The HAC and its allies believe that if the working groups current recommendations for managing flight crew fatigue are implemented across the industry, small Canadian operators will pay a high price. The final dissent prepared by the group refers to an anticipated catastrophic effect on the operation of CAR 604, 702, 703 and 704 aircraft.
A better approach would be to follow the European and American examples, they wrote, by applying the current recommendations exclusively to CAR 705 scheduled operations. The rest of the industry, proposed the group, should be allowed to debate the issue of flight crew fatigue with a view to developing industry segment-specific solutions.
Small operators who are concerned about fatigue management and the working groups proposed regulatory changes are invited to attend the CARAC Technical Committee meeting where the groups report will be considered. The meeting will be held Nov. 6-7, 2012, in Ottawa (contact Chantal Roy at 613-949-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP or for more info). If they are unable to attend, Jones urges operators to get informed and make their views known to the Director General Civil Aviation, Martin Eley, at email@example.com (with a copy to HAC).
It also wouldnt hurt to copy your local Member of Parliament to heighten their sensitivity to the issue, Jones told Vertical. There arent many issues that are as important as this one in our industry. I dont think that I would be exaggerating if I said that these recommendations, if they were implemented in their current form, could cripple the helicopter industry in Canada.
Lisa Gordon is editor-in-chief of MHM Publishings Canadian Skies magazine.