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The status of the civilian helicopter as comes into force AIR-OPS
Publié le 11 septembre 2014
The European Air-OPS regulation, drawn up for civilian operators of aircraft such as the helicopter, comes into force on October 28th. While a good number of European Union operators have already complied with the main body of its provisions, there is still some debate over the issue of how medical emergency helicopters are to be operated.
None of the European Union (EU) states may depart from the regulation this time. The Air-OPS (Air Operations) regulation – also referred to as IR-OPS – that was adopted by the European Commission on 5th October 2012 and published in the EU’s Official Bulletin on the 25th of the same month comes into force on October 28th 2014. While civilian fixed wing operators are getting themselves ready for fairly natural changes in their internal procedures – they are quitting the EU-OPS regulatory regime in order to adopt the Air-OPS one as a continuation of the previous regime – the same cannot quite be said for helicopter operators, especially French transport and airborne work companies. For the latter, the applicable rules take the form of a governmental order – in other words a legal text with national reach – even though they are inspired by Community provisions. From now on, they must abide by the same obligations and carry out their business using means that are comparable to their European sister-states as a way of furthering the move towards standardization.
The move towards Air-OPS is in essence aimed at bolstering safety. The issue –the ultimate cross-functional issue from the viewpoint of aerial operations – will result in helicopter operators streamlining their internal organization, and more broadly speaking taking safety into account in an even more direct way than before during their tasks and their day-to-day missions. This incorporation of safety issues manifests itself in the regulations within the umbrella of the generic term ‘management system’, and entails all of the relevant companies devoting specific internal resources to the issue. In France, companies that operate helicopters as part of their public transport work have all held a French airworthiness certificate the ‘certificat de transporteur aérien’ (CTA). By October 28th at the latest, they will therefore have been monitored by the relevant authority – in this case, the French civil aviation authority the ‘Direction générale de l’aviation civile’ (DGAC) -and will have received a new certificate that complies with Air-OPS criteria. This same monitoring authority has been running various seminars and meetings since October 2012 to prepare everybody for this with a view to giving guidance onworking towards the 2014 deadline.
The Deputy CEO of Inaer France, one of the French operators affected by the introduction of the Air-OPS, remembers it well. “We have been working on it for two years,” he said, adding that he deplores“the way the industry did not properly manage the issue prior to its introduction so as to work with the customers on the practices and methods of use to be implemented.” In any case, as far as he is concerned the fact that the new European regulation will mean that operators have to take ownership of the legislation and take on more responsibility as far as safety is concerned “pulls operational levels forwards” and moves the situation towards “a striving for effectiveness and professionalism.” The Inaer group, which is rolled out throughout Europe by way of various companies, has in fact accrued some experience in the matter,especially in Scandinavia, Spain, Italy and the UK. Having discussed the issues with managers of other companies within the group, Frédéric Goig is of the opinion that “provided the content and mindset of the Air-OPS are properly taken on by the operator, then not only will safety have every chance of being bolstered but the company will also get to benefit from better quality management,” he declared. This being the case, there continues to be an issue in France around the existence of a second crew member, which operators are likely to have to incorporate into their helicopter emergency medical service (SMUH) as a result of the Air-OPS. This principle of placing a second crew member on board is anticipated, though it is not imposed in the strict sense of the word and is the outcome of a choice to be made by the company and – further back along the chain – the level of customer requirements: French hospitals in this case. Without making any assumptions as to the initial skills of the second crew memberrequired to occupy the seat to the left of the captain – whether this be a second pilot or someone specifically recruited by the helicopter operator or even a medical member of staff trained to carry out the task from an aeronautical point of view – the first thing to bear in mind is whether or not the transporter will make the decision to retain their helicopter emergency medical service (SMUH) status or whether they will, based on the contrary argument, choose to fly as a Commercial Air Transport (CAT) operator – in other words, to fly as a public transport provider in exactly the same way as does a commercial airline operator. For Inaer France, this second option is highly unlikely. “If we go for this option, we would no longer be able to carry out primary missions with our helicopters (in other words, to go and get a victim at the location of the accident itself) with an optimal safety margin, other than if we act outside the regulatory framework every time operational conditions restrict us,” said Frédéric Goig in summary.
The Commercial Director of Inaer France went on to explain that “At an equivalent level of activity, the regulation as from October 28th requires every operator to invest in a helicopter emergency service crew member. We have made the decision to go in this direction and in order to make this happen we have submitted a training programme designed for this second crew member. Other operators in France are of the opinion that the presence of this second person in the pilot seat is not necessary and they are saying that they will continue to work in the same way as before – with one single pilot in the helicopter’s forward section. They are therefore paving the way to having to deal with a good number of restrictions in their use of the helicopter.”
Helicopter Emergency Services need to have as few operational restrictions as possible
There is one principal constraint that stands out for those operators that do not want to have a second crew member in their teams: “On a helicopter emergency service mission, you are not allowed to undertake a flight with a risky exposure time when flying over non-mission related things on the ground such as residencies, ground-based traffic routes being used by vehicles and so on. During a primary mission, all you need is for the pilot to be on the way to making an approach towards an area that is more or less badly situated and for set-down conditions to be no better than those that are in the ‘green zone’ as it were at performance 1 level class, in other words, with the maximum safety level that the aircraft can guarantee,” continues Christophe Mauron, adding that “The new regulations stipulate that even though they may be acting as public transport, they may not travel in deteriorated safety conditions.” The medical emergency situation which, by its very nature, is what characterizes a helicopter medical emergency service mission therefore requires the capacity to work with an authorized exposure time and one that is likely to save lives, in an environment that is not provided for by a CAT scenario. “And the Air-OPS gives this authorization to helicopter operators who have decided to position a second crew member on board,” confirmed the Inaer France Commercial Director. Without pursuing the analysis further, it would appear that the choice to be made among French helicopter medical flight operators will most likely weigh on decisions to be made in the future by the Health Ministry. Aside from the safety and effectiveness that is being sought as part of the implementation of the Air-OPS to benefit the victims of accidents and patients, the issue of the relationship between the level of service provided and the costs incurred as calculated by French health authorities is being raised, this coming at a time when French State finances have never been at such a low point.
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