After another tragic helicopter crash recently hit the headlines, proactive risk management and aviation safety in oil and gas have never been more important. Mark Rogers advises on standards and strategy
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in 2010 the global accident rate (measured in hull losses per million flights of Western-built jet aircraft) was 0.61. That is equal to one accident for every 1.6 million flights and is the lowest aircraft accident rate in history. Having said that, these statics change dramatically for the worse, when comparing oil and gas helicopter operations, particularly pipeline inspections, where the International Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) quote a fatality factor of 52.0 per million flights. The causes of such incidents are varied. For example, an internal UK Civil Aviation Authority review of all UK offshore public transport helicopter accidents during the period 1976 to 2012, showed that 28 per cent could be attributed to ‘rotor and transmission failures ’and 28 per cent to ‘lightning strikes’ causes with the remaining 44 per cent attributed to ‘pilot performance / operational’ causes. But what role can proactive risk and safety due diligence play in minimising such risks?
Aviation safety and risk management is largely about meeting the standards of any particular organisation and (or) regulatory authority, within that specific jurisdiction. It’s also about adhering to and maintaining these standards. This is often done by applying due process, resources, quality and safety management systems, to help us monitor and control operational activities. One challenge that stands out across the aviation industry is the harmonisation of safety and quality standards. What is recognised as ‘best or good aviation practice’ on some continents might not correlate with the standards of an emerging or newly emerged geographic region. Indeed, by way of example, we once reviewed an operator’s maintenance hangar that had passed an internal quality audit one month previously despite having shelf life expired lubricants that were 12 months out of date. The quality management system had apparently been approved by the National Aviation Authority. The same hangar had a small fire some months previously. Postincident, a risk assessment was conducted and all control measures were meant to be in place, however our review found a large stock of oil soaked rags and ignition sources at the head of the hangar, loose and disconnected bare wiring was also noted.
There are a number of industry organisations that help to ensure these standards are indeed harmonised. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) works with the Convention’s 191 Member States and industry groups to reach consensus on international civil aviation Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs). The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is the trade association for the world’s airlines, representing around 260 airlines or 83 per cent of total air traffic. The IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) program is an internationally recognised and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline. All IATA members are IOSA registered and must remain registered to maintain IATA membership. Aviation related safety data is becoming more accessible too; the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is tasked to provide an annual review of aviation safety. The Agency has access to accident and statistical information collected by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Within each organisation, there will be a corporate responsibility to implement, manage and proactively adhere to a wealth of regulatory, operational and safety management legislation, working towards zero incidents and accidents by assessing and mitigating identified risks, where practicable.
Of course, simply meeting such standards on paper, but not in practice, is where many operators fall down. Indeed, in our experience it is often where an operator has an approved or recognised process that we find issues with such process adherence. For example, we have come across operators whose operating procedures (approved in accordance with IOSA guidelines) detail monthly pilots reports for flight data monitoring reviews, as well as three monthly flight data monitoring committee meetings, only to discover that due to service provider bills having not been paid, such information did not exist.
So what can be done to avoid these pitfalls?
Firstly, it’s important to work closely with other key stakeholders in the field of air safety, organisations such as the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), the Civil Aviation Authority and various regulatory bodies across the world. Close relationships with other key stakeholders such as the London Insurance Market can also be beneficial. These organisations bring an unparalleled insight and understanding of aviation risk. Secondly, it’s important to ensure that your review follows due process. A typical review starts with a background review and analysis, this saves time on-site and minimises any potential burden to the Auditee, as highlighted within CAP1145 (safety review of offshore public transport helicopter operations). A start-up meeting of the key stakeholders is scheduled once on-site, it’s often at this stage through good questioning an early indication of the culture, level of co-operation and any areas of concern can be highlighted. If applicable and where appropriate, a typical review will include general observations of the operation, environment and facilities, with a high level review of the operational and technical procedures, including Safety and Quality management systems and processes. Personnel training, crew scheduling and incident / accident reporting processes will be reviewed for appropriate implementation, control, monitoring and timely feedback. The review is concluded with a post wash up meeting and final report containing an executive summary complete with any notable observations and ‘best practice’ recommendations.
Many oil & gas businesses outsource their air transport needs to aircraft operators and in doing so have a duty of care to their employees to perform the necessary risk and safety due diligence of the operator they select. A proactive operator audit program can help to mitigate the risks outlined above, whilst aviation manufacturers’ and operators’ ongoing adherence to the highest levels of safety and quality management ensures our aviation industry continues to be as safe as possible.
Mark Rogers is Commercial Manager, Risk and Asset Management at McLarens Aviation. McLarens Aviation is a leading provider of risk, survey and loss adjusting services to the global aviation industry, specialising in all types of aircraft. Clients include the aviation insurance market, aircraft operators, airports, maintenance and repair organisations (MROs), financiers, lessors, oil and mining companies, law firms and regulators. It has a team of over 75 in-house aviation specialists, operating across 32 offices, in 22 countries across the globe.
For further information please visit: mclarens.com/mclarens-aviation/