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Email from a reader regarding commercial pressure

Posted 5 years 252 days ago ago by Randy Mains

Hello Sir, we met a few years ago in Las Vegas when you spoke at Helisuccess and I have been a follower of your teachings ever since.  One aspect of your most recent post regarding scud running with the R-44 video raised a nagging question for me.  As a very conservative pilot, who has spent most of my time in the wire environment, I have discovered that the error chain starts way before the pilot enters the cockpit. It appears that many chief pilots or managers publicly preach safety, but when it comes down to the brass tacks, they often chastise their pilots who have the maturity to just say "No" often bending or do not follow their own Safety Management System, SMS and Standard SOP manuals and  instead tell their pilots – “You should have at least given it a try.”  

My personal rule that I share with my customer has always been to tell them, “If you ever hear me say we will “try” it or anything remotely close to that, please tell me to land so you can get out and watch from the ground.” 

What I do not understand (from my observation) is why being a cowboy who plays on his luck still seems to get ahead in this business faster than operating conservatively and safely while getting the job done. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The following is my reply:
Thank you for reaching out by asking for my views about your concerns.  Yours is a very legitimate worry that I am pretty certain other pilots in the industry have had as well.  You are so right that the error chain begins way before the pilot climbs into the cockpit.   It begins with the culture in the company you work for.  

You are also correct in saying that there are chief pilots and managers who publically preach safety but then turn around and chastise their pilots who have the maturity (and the good sense) to say "no" and by doing so give an often confusing (and dangerous) mixed message by bending their own SMS and SOP manuals when they say to a pilot “You should have at least given it a try.”  

Chief pilots and managers who do that are allowing commercial pressure, which we all know can be a strong force, override flight safety.  As you have inferred, this is hazardous and dangerous behavior on the part of those who are supposed to back up a ‘safe’ decision to say no.  Where this can be particularly dangerous is when a young, impressionable pilot is trying to keep their job by proving themselves, then find they’re forced to operate outside their level of comfort (and perhaps ability) just to please management. 

I really like the your personal rule that you tell your customers " If you hear me say we will TRY IT or anything remotely close to that, have me land, get out and watch from the ground.” You say that you don't understand why being a cowboy who plays on his luck still seems to get you ahead faster, instead of operating conservatively and safely while trying to get the job done.  There may be some pilot out there that operates like that but it’s been my observation in these modern times in the industry, at least in truly professional outfits that I have flown with, that a ‘cowboy’ attitude will get you fired and is an attitude not tolerated.  

I know it can be extremely difficult but pilots really need to ask themselves “Do I believe in the safety philosophy of the company I work for?  Will the boss back me up if I make a decision to say ‘no’ due to any safety concerns I may have?”  If the answer is no then it’s time to look for another job, one where you will be supported and do not feel your safety is in jeopardy.   

I hope that helps.  By the way, the video you’re referring to entitled: “R44 Special VFR Inclement Weather Oxnard to Vegas” that I posted to highlight poor judgment and hazardous behavior where the two pilots were scud running low level, the common remark from pilots who saw it was that the pilots in the video should either have their licenses pulled or that they were just plain stupid.  It was the general consensus that with their demonstrated machismo and sense of invulnerability they are lucky to be alive. 

There were over 800 unfavorable comments from professional helicopters pilots world-wide who had viewed that post on my timeline.  So many negative comments finally caused the person who posted it to take it down, probably because they were shamed into it.  I was genuinely heartened to learn that many of the pilots who saw it do ‘get it’ and understand hazardous and totally unacceptable behavior when they see it.

About The Author:
Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected]