Changes in helicopter contracting and management

Tom Harbour, the Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service, sent a memo dated yesterday to the Regional Foresters. It covers some changes that will be made in the contracting and management of helicopters used on fires.

Usually initiatives like this are the result of a specific incident or accident. The federal fire agencies are more likely to enhance safety after fatalities occur rather than being proactive to prevent them. Of course the memo does not identify what precipitated these changes, but one has to wonder if the accident on August 8 last year that involved the Type 1 helicopter and the deaths of 9 firefighters on a fire in northern California had anything to do with it. As far as we know those accident reports, USFS and NTSB, have not been made public.

Date: July 7, 2009

To: Regional Foresters

This memo is to inform you of the operational safety enhancements in the Aviation program for 2009. The key actions are in progress and listed below:

  • Multiple contract changes are being made to the national helicopter contracts.
    • Aircraft will be weighed with FS maintenance inspectors present to verify weight submitted with contract bid.
    • More stringent standards for seating and restraint systems.
    • Contract scope now contains active safety management requirements.
    • A copy of the performance charts submitted for bid will be onboard each helicopter to allow the helicopter manager to verify the correct performance charts are being used.
    • Increased number of vendor training pilots will be allowed to accompany less experienced pilots during incident operations to provide tactical training and increased oversight.
  • Contract compliance inspection teams will be dispatched during field operations.The Department of the Interior Aviation Management Directorate is a partner in this initiative and will enhance capability and the number of teams that can be deployed.
  • As helicopters are activated for early use, compliance teams will be dispatched to conduct spot inspections and weight verification.
  • Performance planning charts for all contract helicopters will be available via the web to allow helicopter managers to ensure the accuracy of load calculation allowable payloads.
  • Continue to utilize more Exclusive Use (EU) helicopters and minimize use of Call-When-Needed aircraft.EU helicopter managers are generally better trained and more experienced and provide safer and more efficient operations.
  • Independent contractors will be hired to develop an Operational Risk Management (ORM) risk/benefit analysis process.
  • A formal risk assessment of Type I helicopter passenger transport has been completed by a professional aviation safety consultant. Assessments of Type 2 and 3 operations are planned.
  • Formal program reviews for the seven national Type 2 helicopters will be completed this season.

Regional Foresters

These items are critical for the continued safety and success of our aviation program and are underway. If you have any questions please contact Karyn Wood, Assistant Director for Operations.

(signed by Tom Harbour)

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+