Give your pilots, techs, and managers the freedom to follow safety protocols.

Every month, I review the previous month’s rotorcraft accident report from the US Helicopter Safety Team. I study it looking for possible clues to what caused the accidents listed.

Often, like many of us who’ve been in aviation for years, I can summarize the sequence of events that led to each crash. What I mean is, give me a typical scenario of an aircraft flying into the ground and with some basic information, I can get a sense of what happened.

Did the aircraft take off with adequate fuel? Were there witnesses who said the engine was running when they last heard or saw the aircraft? What was the general weather trend in the area before the accident or incident? With that little bit of information, a seasoned aircraft pilot or mechanic/engineer can broadly determine why the flight went awry. Usually, we’re right in our assessments. What we can’t surmise is why the pilot or mechanic did what they did to cause the accident.

Accident or Crash?

For the past few years now, I’ve had an issue with the term “accident.” Is it really an accident if the pilot did something he or she knew to be wrong or out of compliance with rules, regulations, or best practices? I don’t think so.

If you’re driving your car 90 mph in a 45-mph zone and you lose control and hit another object, is it an accident? You were intentionally exceeding the posted speed limit in an area where the safe speed was determined to be much lower. Your intentional action resulted in your losing control of the vehicle. That’s not an accident—that’s a crash!

In my mind, an accident is when a person does something that results in an unintended consequence. In aviation, we call these occurrences procedural unintentional noncompliance, or PUNC. When the event is intentional, it’s known as procedural intentional noncompliance, or PINC. Life is full of these instances.

I’m not the first to write about PINC. In fact, I’ve written about the topic before (see “PINC Awareness: Don’t Rationalize Skipping Steps,” Spring 2018 ROTOR). Procedural intentional noncompliance is something we’ve all been doing since we became aviation professionals. Some familiar examples: disregarding your aircraft operator’s manual, ignoring federal aviation rules, skimping on maintenance procedures, flying when the weather doesn’t meet your personal or company minimums. I could go on.

Why Do We Shoot Ourselves in the Foot?

What causes us to take a walk on the wild side of aviation and commit PINC? A high probability of success? The absence of peer pressure or reaction? Complacency? All of these (and other reasons)?

What’s been determined through countless studies and evaluations of “accidents” is that the majority of PINC-related crashes have occurred at the hands of veteran pilots and mechanics—people who’ve been doing the work they specialize in for many years, even decades. Yet, they take it upon themselves to evaluate the risk and then hope the result will be worth the action they took.

They do this knowing they’re violating an important safety regulation or guideline. It could be an FAA rule, a company SOP or GOM, a best practice, or maybe even the wise counsel of a colleague.

To avoid promoting an environment where PINC can flourish, plant a culture where your pilots, mechanics, and managers aren’t afraid to speak up—to management or to one another.

Give your maintenance personnel the tools, time, and proper work environment to deliver a safe aircraft and perform their work correctly, consistently.

It takes self-discipline to operate an aircraft in a single-pilot role and always comply with safe rules and procedures. So give your pilots the ability to operate within the scope of rules and procedures and, most importantly, within their own comfort level.

And don’t forget your managers. They deserve the ability to meet expectations; don’t give them situations in which the only way they can do so is by violating rules or guidance that’s in place to protect them and your business.

When I was new to flying air ambulance helicopters, my base lead pilot gave me the best advice, telling me all I needed to know about risk management.

“Your No. 1 job is to protect our certificate,” he said. With that sage piece of advice, I knew we weren’t going to knowingly violate measures put into place to keep us safe.

Fugere tutum! 

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Zac Noble

Zac Noble

Zac, HAI’s director of maintenance and technology, joined the association as its deputy director of flight operations and technical services after 11 years of flying in the air medical sector. A US Army veteran, Zac’s aviation career spans more than 35 years. He is a dual-rated ATP, a dual-rated CFII, and an A&P with IA privileges.

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