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Jan
22
2021

Confined Area Operations…A Well-Trained Instructor is Key to Safety!

Posted 33 days ago ago by Admin

One maneuver that offers many variations in the methods by which flight instructors teach is Confined Area Operations. Over the years, helicopter pilot applicants have approached this topic with a wide variety of acronyms and procedures. Passed down from instructor to instructor, this is often more tribal knowledge than fact.

Is it healthy for our industry to delegate teaching such risk-based concepts to our less-experienced instructor pilot cadre?

The intent of initial helicopter pilot training is to provide a solid foundation upon which a career as a helicopter pilot can be built. In the early years, much of this training is conducted utilizing textbook knowledge and procedures that provide a baseline skillset from which industry experience can be safely acquired. In the US civil helicopter training industry, a new helicopter pilot will most likely gain their initial employment within the field as a flight instructor. It would be the low-time flight instructor that would introduce their students to the concept of landing in a confined space.

When a new helicopter pilot attempts to hover for the first time, the entire airport may feel like a confined space, but soon the pilot-in-training finds their hover-legs and viola’, they can now hover the helicopter. Once hovering, training progresses much quicker to include stabilizing the end of a normal approach. Once the pilot can terminate the approach to a hover, various approach angles will be introduced. It is the ability for a helicopter pilot to visualize and maintain various approach angles for a safe termination to be conducted within a confined space.

In many cases, the confined space in which a helicopter intends to land is not the cause of accidents related to Confined Area Operations, it is often the Pilot. The pilot’s inability to adequately assess a confined space and match their skillsets to the intended area of landing, or correctly calculate the aircrafts capability and performance is cited as a contributing factor to Confined Area Operation accidents.

To address many of these factors and others, the FAA developed the P.A.V.E. checklist to aid the pilot with these decisions. The checklist is broken down into four (4) specific areas of concern which are:

  • P = Pilot (Experience and Training to complete the required task)
  • A = Aircraft (Performance and Equipment appropriate for Environment)
  • V = Environment (Environmental factors specific to the required task)
  • E = External Pressure (Pressure points related to do the required task)

Early adaptation to the basic principles of helicopter flight combined with tools to aid in pilot training and decision-making such as the PAVE checklist provide a newly minted, well-trained flight instructor adequate knowledge and skillsets to properly prepare a new helicopter pilot for certification. However, basic skillsets and principles [only] provide a foundation for the most important ingredient of a safe and prosperous career as a helicopter pilot. Experience! Once a helicopter pilot is away from the schoolhouse, the learning does not stop. Only the way the lessons are presented change to more self-education without the safety blanket of a more experienced, ride-along instructor.   

The lessons learned early in pilot training to include Confined Area Operations are taught safety first with emphasis on the pilot’s ability. With more experience, we tend to expect the pilot’s ability and assume the operation is safe.

I would suggest that a well-trained flight instructor is perfect for the job!

About Randy: 
Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.

Visit Helicopter Institute's website for more information
Website: www.helicopterinstitute.com
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