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Fred Lewis

One-Half Mile Visibility Is Insufficient

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In July of 2009 a helicopter flight into adverse weather resulted in two fatalities. This is the TSB report.

As a result of this tragedy, Canadian Helicopters issued a memo in which these conditions were to be respected:

 

No flights shall depart a company base or an airport when reported weather conditions are below ceiling 600 feet and 3 miles visibility (weather equivalents are ceiling 700 feet and 2 miles visibility or ceiling 800 feet and 1 mile visibility).

 

No new operations are to be started when the visibility is below 1 mile.

 

Operations Specifications which allow for flight in less than 1 mile visibility shall only be used to recover personnel to base, camp or for emergency flights approved by management.

 

If standards like these are good enough for one of the most successful helicopter companies on the whole planet, then they should be good enough for everyone else. Helicopter flying would be much safer for it.

 

The objection will be that unless the regulations are revised to remove the exemption that allows helicopter flying in one-half mile visibility, an operator who attempts to operate only in visibilities of greater than one mile, will suffer financially. This seems to be a clear case of financial gain trumping safe practices.

 

An article appeared in a recent issue of Helicopters magazine. The author, who is both an experienced pilot and an experienced executive, expresses some dismay at the state of safety that exists in this country’s helicopter culture. This article quotes the appalling words of a pilot regarding a fatal accident in Alberta. It is worth reading.

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If standards like these are good enough for one of the most successful helicopter companies on the whole planet, then they should be good enough for everyone else. Helicopter flying would be much safer for it.

 

Using that logic then if we all stop flying we'll be even safer.

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Got to concur with Jim here. Did the accident report say what the actual vis was? I suspect that an accident of this nature was in less than 1/2 mile vis. We don't need to change the rules, just adhere to those in place. I guess they should have plotted out a risk matrix eh?

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Totally depends on many factors. Have heli-skied most of a day in vis1/2 mile or more and been very comfortable, know the drainage am working, going slow, trees, yes local knowledge. Would I venture out at Baker Lake in winter at 2 miles, snow, overcast to go 20 miles,,,NO. Have sat on ground on Victoria Island 13 miles out of Holman for an hour when the vis out of Holman was called 10 miles. Waited till the sun came out and was fine, overcast and blowing snow was treacherous. The key factor is reference, which most do not understand. You can see the moon at night does than mean you have enough reference to fly? Just because the visibility at an airport or your camp is fine does not necessarily mean you have the reference to fly. How many of us have crossed a frozen lake or glacier on a beautifull sunny day in winter, lots of visibility, could you have landed on that lake or glacier,,,,maybe.....reference is key.

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Will changing the limit to 1 mile change anything? Perhaps, if you are leaving a base, airport, or area with a larger number of people not involved in your operation. When you are out in a remote place the situation may be different. Most of us have flown in weather less than 1/2 mile on numerous occasions and probably have stories on how poor it was, some we tell, some we keep to ourselves.

 

You return with a crew when the weather on some or all of your route was below limits, how many times have your heard someone say, 'you should have left the crew out there because the weather was less than 1/2 mile!' More likely you are going to hear appreciation.

Reference is vital but you can have reference hovering 20 feet above the treetops going tree to tree and your "local knowledge" may even let you memorize the route to take over that area.

Past experience has shown us that flying at 1/2 mile visibility feels safe and needs minimal skill so dropping below the limit becomes easier and feels more and more comfortable as well as safe.

 

It's good to see Canadian Helicopters management getting involved to find a way to avoid another tragedy. If changing the rules has an effect for the good, then hats off to them.....I'm guessing that the 1/2 mile limit wasn't the only problem.

 

There are many factors that influence a pilot to fly at less than legal visibility limits. What it comes down to is ego. You, fellow pilots, coworkers, and Management must work at educating other pilots enough to control their ego. This must not only happen at recurrent training (where we all turn on our model pilot, model instructors, and model management personalities) but on an ongoing basis out in the field.

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"Most of us have flown in weather less than 1/2 mile on numerous occasions and probably have stories on how poor it was, some we tell, some we keep to ourselves."

 

Too right - I have hauled broken motorcyclists off a track in hill fog and it ain't fun. Even had my skids on the ground and hopped over fences (in the miltary). This is why my personal limit is now based on speed - if I don't like what I see at 60 knots, that's when I start thinking of canning it. This is based on the fact that the stabilisation surfaces of mst helicopters don't kick in until 45 knots (76 in the Dauphin!). That gives me a comfortable margin over that. Aside from that I can't measure distance well from the cockpit! :)

 

Phil

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"Most of us have flown in weather less than 1/2 mile on numerous occasions and probably have stories on how poor it was, some we tell, some we keep to ourselves."

 

Too right - I have hauled broken motorcyclists off a track in hill fog and it ain't fun. Even had my skids on the ground and hopped over fences (in the miltary). This is why my personal limit is now based on speed - if I don't like what I see at 60 knots, that's when I start thinking of canning it. This is based on the fact that the stabilisation surfaces of mst helicopters don't kick in until 45 knots (76 in the Dauphin!). That gives me a comfortable margin over that. Aside from that I can't measure distance well from the cockpit! :)

 

Phil

 

Who CAN measure distance accurately from the cockpit? That is a very valid point Phil. What one pilot might estimate as 1 mile visibility another may call 3/4 mile vis (or 2 mile vis). Given this point, how will changing the regulations stop pilots from flying in less than the required vis.

 

Also unless something occurrs right beside a weather station at an airport (where most helicopters rarely operate), how would anyone be able to prove what visibility the pilot was flying in at the time of an accident. Most of us have found ourselves in CAVOK weather while in proximity to an airpot that was reporting reduced visibility.

 

Your point about speed is also worth reiterating. A pilot flying at 100 knots, might judge the visibilty to be 1 mile visibility, while the same pilot may estimate the visibility to 2 miles at 50 knots.

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What are you guys whining about?

 

You don't comply with the regulations now. What difference does it make if they change the limits that you don't follow anyway?

 

RedDog

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