PRECAUTIONS PILGRIMAGE FLYING- HELICOPTERS
Pilgrimage Flying is a very lucrative business and the profitability of number of Operators largely depends on the contracts to operate in the location of pilgrimage centres. The flying during the season is very hectic, challenging and demands high standards of professionalism, maturity and safety consciousness. There are many grey areas related to the conduct of operations during pilgrimage flying.
Hence, it is essential that the Operators, Pilots, Engineers, Technicians, Ground support personnel etc. are aware of the hazards related to the operations at the pilgrimage centres and address these aspects to ensure the safety and efficiency of operations.
Operations Management- at Base.
- All the operators need to ensure that the Pilots tasked to fly are competent, cleared and current in hill flying.
- The Pilots should have undergone necessary Air and Ground training and clearances as required by DGCA CAR/Circulars.
- The Operators should ensure that the Pilots and the support staff deputed for the operations at pilgrimage centres are aware about the provisions of DGCA :-
- Air Safety Circular 07/2013, Seasonal Helicopter Operations-Safety guidelines, Dated 24 Jun 2013.
- OC NO. 06 OF 2017 dated 1 June 2017, ADVISORY OPERATIONS CIRCULAR, Precautions to be observed by Operators / Pilots during Helicopter Operations to Temporary / Regular use Helipads.
- OPERATIONS CIRCULAR NO. 6/2013, CAR COMPLIANCE FOR FREQUENTLY USED HELIPADS.
4. Operators should ensure that the SOP applicable to the respective pilgrimage centres are reviewed,updated,approved by DGCA on as required basis and disseminated to the operating crew members for compliance.
5. The Accountable Executive/Manager,COO,Chief Pilot should conduct comprehensive briefing for the Pilots and joint briefing for Pilots,Engineers,Technicians and supporting Staff, highlighting the hazards associated with the operations, maintenance and ground support, strict compliance of DGCA Ops and Air Safety Circulars and other rules, regulations. During the briefing special emphasis must be laid on the safety of the operations.
Operations Management-at Pilgrimage Helipad.
Base Managers/Senior Pilots need to conduct comprehensive briefing of the Pilots ,AME, Technicians, Ground Support Staff, covering the do’s and don’ts and the need for their full involvement, in ensuring proper coordination of the operations, briefing of passengers ,safe boarding and de boarding of passengers both at the embarkation and disembarkation helipads .
Pilots should plan a joint briefing session with pilots from other operators and get to know about the SOP’s being followed, altitude to climb while proceeding to the helipad and returning from the helipad, frequencies to be used for communication, blind or routine calls to report position and sequence of landing and take-off at the helipads.
All the pilots should plan, prepare well for the sortie keeping in mind the following:-
- Current Weather Reports, Synoptic situation, trends and remain touch with the latest developments on the weather. Pilots should remain alert about the deterioration of weather and transmit to other pilots as well so that everyone is aware and cautious.
- Surface temperature at the base, destination and calculate your density altitude, power required, reserve of power and the number of passengers that can be carried safely, depending on weather and power limitations.
- Check the wind conditions at base, destination. Winds at Kedarnath are generally tail winds. Keep the adverse effect of tail winds while landing at Kedarnath if the tail winds cannot be avoided.
- Sudden changes in weather (Cloud base and visibility), turbulence, updrafts/downdrafts and change in wind speed and direction are typical of weather in hilly terrain. Be aware of weather phenomenon and timely response.
- The misting of the windshield and windows can take place since the helicopter flies from high temperature to low temperature or vice versa. Cockpit demisters should be serviceable and used as per SOP to eliminate the sudden risk of misting. Pilots using goggles also must remember that misting of their Goggles or specs can take place with attendant hazards.
- Know the terrain, obstructions around the helipads, enroute and requirement of turning radius in the valleys. Some improvements have been undertaken at the Kedarnath Shrine area since last year and it may be possible that the pilots are not familiar with some of the new obstructions which might have come up since the last year, at Kedarnath. Hence, it is essential to know the location of the obstructions and keep a good look out for the same.
- Keep a sharp look out for other helicopters, poles, wires, trolley cables and even possibly birds. Don’t be complacent that birds don’t fly at high altitude.
- Take off, approach and landing at altitudes with high all up weight, in the hilly terrain, demand full alertness and vigilance since margin of safety is reduced considerably. Keep this important aspect in mind.
(h) Pilots should be aware of the phenomenon of Vortex ring, loss of tail rotor effectiveness and ground resonance. Vortex ring conditions are likely to occur during steep approaches with ROD more than 300 Ft/Mt, calm or tail winds and IAS around transition speed. Be aware and alert.
- Correct altimeter setting in coordination with other helicopters/operators as per SOP must be ensured.
- Risk posed by hill shadows particularly during morning, evening hours should be known to the pilots.
- Single pilot flying under such challenging situation, for long hour’s duration is quite fatiguing and stressful. Under such conditions, the ability of pilots to make proper decision is likely to suffer and their chances of making errors are high. Be careful and take adequate rest, refreshments and do not fly if you are feeling stressed or fatigued.
- Maintain good situational awareness at all times and never be complacent, however, ace pilot, you may consider yourself. Remember while doing same task repeatedly, pilots tend to relax and become overconfident. Guard against this.
- Chances of pilots getting into spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness are high in the hills, even in good visibility conditions, due to nature of the terrain and loss of horizon. Pilots should be familiar with these conditions and take timely action not to get into that situation.
- Pilots should keep in mind the Golden Rule in Aviation- Aviate, Navigate and Communicate. First priority is to fly and control the helicopter in any situation.
- In the hills, it is very difficult to find force landing fields. Pilots need to keep in mind wherever some clear areas are available. Also some of the areas may appear clear from altitude but when you descend to lower heights, the appearance may be different then what you expected. Be careful.
- The adverse effects of rotor downwash of other helicopters on your helicopter and the downwash of other helicopters on your helicopter, which may lead to loss of height, vibrations and flapping of the blades/wind sailing, should be kept in mind.
- Rotor down wash is likely to take place at Kedarnath helipad, particularly when a helicopter is already at the helipad and is delayed for take-off while there is another helicopter on the approach and coming into the helipad when other helicopter is initiating take off. This situation should be avoided. Do not attempt to fly low over helicopter whose rotors are turning.
- The ground staff at both the departure and arrival helipads should be competent, properly briefed and fully involved in ensuring the safe boarding and de boarding of passengers. Approach procedures to the helicopter and departure procedure from the helicopter must be properly coordinated and monitored. Risk of passengers going towards tail rotor must be known and ground staff, passengers be briefed accordingly.
- Pilots should be careful about the rotor disc which should be level or in such a position that it poses no risk to passengers or ground personnel. Do not allow anyone under the rotors particularly when the rotors are at low RPM during starting or switching off to avoid blade sailing in strong wind conditions.
- Pilots and ground support personnel should be very careful in ensuring that no loose articles like Caps, Pagrees, Lungies, Gamchha, ladies Dupatta, loose clothing’s, plastic material, ropes wires etc. fly around, during Hover, take-off, landing.
- Do not exceed the laid down limitations and stress the helicopter.
- Monitor the behaviour of your helicopter very closely and any changes in engine sound or parameters should not be ignored.
- There was a fatal accident at Katra due bird hit. Birds can be serious hazards at some locations. Pilots need to be aware and alert about the bird hazards.
- It is essential that the pilots are aware of the position of other helicopters, give R/T calls,as per procedures with adopted in coordination of other Operators/Pilots.
- In addition to the commercial helicopters authorised to operate from the designated helipads including from Harsil helipad, there may be helicopter traffic from Army, Air Force and Charter helicopters. Pilots should be aware of all the movements and be always very alert, vigilant and maintain a good listening watch.
- Pilots should have full knowledge of the helicopter traffic from various agencies while entering the valley from Rishikesh for Kedarnath side and returning from Kedarnath to Rishikesh side, the altitude they are maintaining, and the side of the valley they are flying (As per SOP) and giving blind RT calls at designated locations, especially while negotiating blind corners of the valley.
- The AME’s, Technician play a very vital role especially during such high intensity operations. They need to be very professional and vigilant during maintenance, turn around servicing, daily inspection, rectification of snags, refuelling etc. The adverse effect of number of starts and switch off, frequent take off, landings, high power operations, dusty environments, rapid decrease and increase of atmospheric temperature, pressure within short time duration and number of times during sorties, stress and fatigue on the engines and components should be kept in mind by the AME, Technicians.
- It is moral duty of the AME, Technicians to be fully involved in ensuring the full airworthiness of the helicopter and they should not succumb to any company pressures which may lead to compromise on safety.
- Fuel is life and special attention should be paid to the refuelling. Checking the quality of fuel, signs of any contamination and proper bonding during refuelling operations should be observed. Take no short cuts please.
- In the pursuit of completing the task for the day which is a very hectic schedule, Pilots, AME’s, Technicians and other supporting staff are liable to take short cuts or rush through the activities related to their role. All the personnel should be aware of the risk.
- Pilots and AME’s, Technician’s should have good professional and personal relations and understanding which is essential for safe conduct of operations.
- Pilots should never fly with snags, however minor it may appear since what appears to be minor on ground, may become major in Air. Get the snag rectified to your satisfaction even if it involves delay and don’t get pressurised for completing number of sorties from anyone including self.
- In general, it is presumed that there will be tremendous pressures on the pilots to undertake maximum number of sorties, passengers and the commercial considerations are high on the mind of the operators. So there will be pressures on the pilots, AME’s to deliver, to meet the expectation of the operators. Some pilots also may be under self-imposed pressures due to monetary considerations since they are paid per hour of flying and number of landings. Let no pressure affect you and always place safety before any other considerations.
- The peer pressure is another area where pilots tend to get in competition with other operators/pilots to complete number of sorties more than the others, ignoring weather conditions.
- Pilots should resist these pressures which may compromise the safety and all the pilots operating in that area should be on the same page and keep safety uppermost in their mind. One up syndrome (Trying to complete more trips then others even in marginal weather conditions) is not in the interest of any pilot or Operator since it has potential of compromising safety.
- The Operators will do well not to create any kind of pressures on the pilots directly or indirectly since it may have major implications on safety.
- Proper communication facilities, accommodation, meals, refreshments, tea, coffee, suitable transport etc. should be provided to the Company personnel commensurate with their status and entitlement.
- The pilots, AME, Technicians should receive full support from the Finance, HR and Admin department of the operator and their Salary, allowances, boarding, lodging and transportation etc. should be good and commensurate with the other operator’s standards.
- Financial claims should be settled at the earliest.
- Ops, Maintenance and Marketing Staff of the operators should provide all the possible assistance to the Pilots, AME’s and ground staff by ensuring timely operational, maintenance and administration support.
- Company management should ensure that the pilots are not pressurised and decision making should be left to them since they are the best judge of the situation. It is a known fact that the Pilots and AME’s are responsible professionals and will spare no efforts to complete the task within the bounds of safety. Any pressure on them will be counterproductive and may jeopardise safety. The Operators are requested to keep this important aspect in mind and should aim to achieve healthy balance between task completion and safety, giving the safety due importance.
- The CEO/Accountable Executives/COO, Chief of Flight Safety/ Chief of Maintenance should closely monitor the conduct of operations, Maintenance. Pilots, Engineers displaying casual and macho attitudes or any other hazardous attitudes like Anti Authority (Violating SOP’s, rules, regulations), invulnerability (that is accident happen only to others and not to them), impulsivity (taking decision in haste and on impulse) and state of Resignation( i.e. they feel that they are helpless and can’t make a difference), should be counselled and corrected.
- There is a definite need for the regulator to provide proper air traffic control, communication and Met facilities at the helipads of operations.
- The close monitoring by the Ops, Maintenance and Safety inspectors from DGCA without being overbearing, to ensure proper coordination, compliance with rules,regulations,SOP’s and best industry practices will go a long way in enhancing safety of the operations at pilgrimage centres.