Blogs: How I Saw HeliOffshore’s Global Collaboration for Safety With My Own Eyes in Malaysia and Australia
The first realisation that I was heading for a place with a powerful safety culture came on the Qantas flight from London. The flight attendant warned me to watch my head and I looked up to see a red warning flag there to alert passengers not to bump into the overhead bins. On arrival in Australia, I was impressed that the taxi drivers politely refuse to pull away until you’ve clicked your seatbelt. Later came the excellent safety briefing for my scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef and then I learnt that the locals are using drones to scout for crocodile threats along the beach. This is my type of country and it came as no surprise to encounter plenty of other like-minded safety professionals in my meetings across Australia and beyond.
Asia and Australasia now account for exactly one-fifth of HeliOffshore’s 115-member companies. Earlier this month, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel extensively in that part of the world to meet with several of our members and stakeholders. It was a powerful reminder of the truly global nature of our collaboration to enhance safety in the offshore helicopter industry. It was encouraging to meet so many people who are willing to learn and then act on what we’ve discovered it takes to enhance safety in the frontline, where it matters most.
My first stop was in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where I participated the Southeast Asia Helicopter Summit arranged by the very enthusiastic and professional Michael Gao. Alongside Edwin Soeters, who is strategic planning director with Weststar Aviation Service, we gave a joint presentation on the key safety programmes being developed and implemented by HeliOffshore members. Edwin’s part of the presentation focused on the practicalities of implementing this work within the region and the benefit he
and his colleagues get from their involvement. Edwin highlighted the significant contribution to several HeliOffshore workstreams made by the Weststar team. These include chief technical officer Russell Allen (System Reliability & Resilience), safety management manager Mohd Noor Azam Bin Azizli, who is involved in data sharing for the HeliOffshore Safety Intelligence Programme, and chief operating officer Datuk Wan Hasmar Azim Wan Hassan, who has been a big advocate for Flight Crew Operating Manuals. Last month, the company sent two engineers from Malaysia to Italy to participate in HeliOffshore’s latest Human Hazard Analysis workshops, which bring experts from operators and manufacturers together to make improvements to maintenance processes and aircraft design. During the summit, I was also able to meet officials from Malaysia’s Regulator, the Department of Civil Aviation, and from China’s Air Transport Association.
The contributions of our members in this part of the world are all
the more remarkable given the large distances and time zone differences that are spanned for colleagues to collaborate with each other through the HeliOffshore Space portal and in our regular conference calls. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to the families of our Asian and Australian colleagues, whose evenings get disturbed by this collaboration!
While in Kuala Lumpur, it was wonderful to visit Weststar’s headquarters. From there, I joined a video conference call to discuss frontline safety issues with the its managers across its five Malaysian bases (Kota Bharu, Kerteh, Kola Kinabalu and Miri) and locations in Thailand and Indonesia. This call made a big impression on me, giving me a true sense that our collaboration is reaching the frontlines around the globe and it was inspiring to see how passionately the engineers and pilots are committed to safety. The call was chaired by Weststar’s CEO General Tan Sri Muhammad Ismail Jamaluddin, who is a member of the HeliOffshore board. It was clear to see the difference it makes to the company’s safety culture to have its leader so personally invested in this work. The call was an excellent opportunity for those with frontline safety responsibilities to candidly discuss what is working and what isn’t working, and to share advice and training to improve to continuously improve safety performance. The feedback that operators like Weststar provide through our InfoShare process is critical to being able to work constructively with manufacturers to resolve safety issues.
Moving on to Perth, I met with leaders from more than a dozen helicopter operators and oil companies in a meeting hosted by HeliOffshore member BHP. It was very helpful to get such a comprehensive first-hand account of the challenges and opportunities posed by Australia’s operating environment. I have to confess that I hadn’t appreciated the country’s vastness until this trip, and it was very informative to hear about the great distances that have to be covered by operators dealing with the realities of support very remote bases (one I heard about was 300 miles from the nearest road!).
What is clear is that my Australian colleagues are very strongly committed to the spirit of collaboration for safety that drives HeliOffshore’s work, and they have embraced a collaborative approach to safety for many years. In our meeting, we were able to discuss in detail how the safety work of their companies aligns with HeliOffshore’s strategy and how we can step up their involvement in shaping and implementing our safety programmes. It was very clear that we all shared the perspective of treating safety as a singular system encompassing both humans and machine and taking proactive steps to introduce safety enhancements and judging progress in terms of how it supports frontline personnel who deliver safety performance where it counts most.
In Melbourne, I also enjoyed a very productive meeting with my fellow Flight Safety Foundation board member Cameron Ross (of BHP) and David Anderson, who runs the BARS programme for the Foundation, along with his colleague from the aviation insurance industry, Julian Fraser. I also met with Aviation Aerospace Australia about its work to encourage a diverse range of people to pursue careers in the aerospace and aviation industries.
The final stop of my trip was in Sydney, where I was honoured to be asked to speak as the Qantas Group Safety Conference. It was inspiring to see the passion that Australia’s flag carrier has for safety at an event in which over 400 frontline safety managers rubbed shoulders with the Qantas CEO and board members. The corporate culture is strongly committed to being ready to learn and act to enhance safety and several participants contacted me afterwards to tell me specifically what they are planning to do in reaction to what they heard at the conference. This spirit is a testament to the influence of Tim Jenkins, another Flight Safety Foundation board colleague, who has just left Qantas, where he was a powerful advocate for safety, creating an environment in which colleagues can discuss difficult issues and strive to continuously improve together.
The focus of my presentation to the conference was how leaders can drive a conversation with their teams about performance improvements that support frontline operations. This is a conversation focused on what good looks like, how we can get more of that by providing support to the frontline and then measure the effectiveness of the steps we’ve taken together. This short video gives a flavour of this excellent event.