AAF Safety Committee S.E.E. Objectives
The AAF Safety Committee attempts to identify hazards, deficiencies, and opportunities (equipment, practices) in aerial fire suppression operations, and to bring them to the attention of agencies, contractors, and aircrews. Although we may lack the resources, manpower, support, and/or authority to directly implement solutions, we will do what we can to mitigate dangers and to promote improvements. AAF members are encouraged to become involved in these projects, and/or to identify additional SEE (Safety-Effectiveness-Efficiency) related items for consideration.
*** Priority Items:
***Monitor aircraft inspection practices, including stress monitoring, and maintenance standards.
***Establish a Safety Management System (SMS) partnership between agencies, contractors, and crews; the current system is often a one-way top-down hierarchy flow.
*** Minimize “Mission Mentality”. Treat wildfire suppression as a profession, not an ad-hoc emergency response. It is too important to get excited about. Adding a pile of crumpled aluminum and Jet-A to a fireline, or wasting a load of retardant because you were rushing, only adds to the problem
***Improve communication, including direct contacts between agencies and aircrews on items of an operational or safety-related nature, expanded/interactive (two-way) use of the Internet with high-speed WIfi routers on airbase computer systems, enhanced and sanitized SAFECOM/FC-119 incident/hazard reporting with feedback (similar to NASA ACRS and FAA ASAP programs), line pilot and mechanic participation in agency review and planning functions, and periodic 1-on-1 tailgate sessions during fire season. Get managers and agency personell (including dispatchers) out in the field, flying and/or observing airtanker/leadplane operations as often as practicable.
***Provide training and support for active line pilot and mechanic participation in all aviation fire suppression incident/accident investigations. Scholarships to the U.C.Davis Emergency Response Aviation Safety Management Course, or ALPA/USC Accident Investigation courses would be a good way to start.
***Establish, monitor, and enforce minimum training requirements and standards for contractors, and include bid/contract incentives for contractors who provide appropriate enhancements. Agencies should request, then respond to, unfiltered direct feedback from trainees (as per NAFRI). Consider training outsourcing for increased objectivity and specialized expertise (IFR simulators, USFS/MCC FireSim, upset recovery/advanced maneuvering courses in appropriate aircraft such as www.APStraining.com), and to ease pressure on maintenance scheduling of airtankers. Institute pre-season TEAM TRAINING with ATGS/ACMs, leadplanes, and airtankers (rotor-wing, VLAT, LAT, S2T, scoopers, SEATs, MAFFS, etc), preferably in both aircraft and MCC FireSim. Include scored drops (batting practice) in airtankers.
Eliminate “silent intimidation”; institute an improvement-focused non-punative response and appeal process for complaints about aircrews by agency personnel, and vice versa.
Establish Professional Standards Committees to deal with crew performance issues: internally, pro-actively, expeditiously.
Evaluate effects on proficiency from minimal flying, especially for pilots on short or low-time contracts. Identify and support opportunities for off-season proficiency flying and continuing education related to aerial fire suppression, including on-line courses.
Establish objective, appropriate medical standards for aircrews of all ages to ensure safe operations, eschewing arbitrary age discrimination.
Establish, in conjunction with FAA and NASA, airtanker certification standards based on typical operational usage and stresses, including a comprehensive, published, and disseminated study of cumulative effects of airtankers landing loaded and sitting loaded, and aerodynamic/structural analysis of retardant-drops and other typical operational stresses on airtankers.
Install CVR (cockpit voice recorders) and FDR (flight data recorders) with data download capability, and/or cockpit video recorders, to assist in accident investigations, trend analysis, ASIP (Aircraft Stress Inspection Program), training/checkride debriefs, and FOQA (Flight Operation Quality Assurance) programs. Assure appropriate legal safeguards for participating air crews.
Establish FOQA programs to deal with training, inspection/maintenance, work rules (cumulative fatigue), and operational procedures.
Identify and promulgate procedures for both high-density and uncontrolled airports, and congested areas, that mitigate environmental effects and potential hazards in the event of a jettison, and that do not expose aircrews (or “civilians”) to unnecessary risks or potential legal action.
Petition agencies to define the legal rights, obligations, and liabilities of tactical pilots acting for government agencies, and provide liability insurance, and/or a waiver, for aircrews. Currently, the potential effects on a flight crewmember and their family from a lawsuit or certificate action resulting from fire suppression activities could be devastating.
Establish easily-accessed pre/post incident communication forums between fixed-wing, rotor-wing, SEAT, MAFFS, VLATs, and ATGS/ATM/Leadplane aircrew representatives. We work in very close proximity on fires but have separate training, and it is extremely rare that we ever brief or debrief together. We are not always on the same frequency or the same page. NAFA and NAFA II could be a good place to start a dialogue. A secure and protected (sterile) internet site could be another channel of communication and sharing.
Continually assess and publicize operational fatigue factors (mental, emotional, and physical), including dehydration (cold bottled drinking water readily available at all bases at all times), aircraft environmental systems, base rest facilities, and requirements for pilots to wash airtankers (assign loaders/firefighters to help?).
Monitor meal provisions for guest crews at AABs; nutritious, timely, and appropriate (cold, greasy, breaded chicken or Mexican specials, mystery meat, or make-it-yourself plastic sandwiches do not fill the bill).
Establish dispatching procedures and work rules that recognize and address the safety and morale consequences of extended duty hours over extended periods (days/weeks), especially away from home, and that compensate with compensatory paid time off, at home, during slack periods. Award bid points to contractors that provide aircrews and mechanics relief and time at home equivalent to that of contracting agency personnel.
Provide paid sick leave for aircrews, and sufficient relief pilots to realistically cover activated aircraft.
“Liquidated damages” is an incentive to fake it when aircraft (or aircrew) maintenance is needed. Also, consider the pressures inherent in an emphasis on flight pay for contractors and/or pilots. Both conditions are unquestionably an encouragement to “press”.
Monitor the FAA Capstone project, multistatic dependent surveillance for in-flight tracking and diverts, TARMS, HUD, EVS (IR), SVS, and similar enabling technologies that offer enhanced safety, effectiveness, and/or efficiency in airtanker operations. Promote their acquisition and utilization where appropriate.
Evaluate risks and loss of effectiveness inherent in using tankers close to sunset. What is the risk/reward tradeoff? If low-light/restricted visibility operations are to be conducted, conduct an in-depth study, with line airtanker pilot participation, of military low-level night operations procedures, and state-of-the-art NVG and associated equipment. Enhanced Synthetic Vision Systems, such as Max-Viz, could enhance safety and effectiveness of aerial wildfire suppression in low-light and restricted visibility situations.
If airtanker crews are allowed to operate IFR/IMC, require aircraft to be adequately equipped and fully functional for IFR flight, with appropriate current charts and publications. Insure crews have received adequate realistic IFR recurrent training in type, and are legally current and proficient for IFR/IMC flight in type.
Evaluate cockpit workload (task saturation), especially in single-pilot aircraft without autopilots. ACARS would be a tremendous asset in our operation.
Publish a “user-friendly” (intelligible) Interagency Airtanker Operations Manual, consolidating applicable FARs, agency requirements, standardized operational procedures, and an “open” section for individual contractor notes. This, along with AFMs, should be a “living” document, subject to regular (at least annual) review, with easy updating. Availability on the internet would be a huge plus.
Push for concise, standardized, up-to-date AFMs (Aircraft Flight Manuals), with simplified and logical procedures conforming to basic human factor principles (flow, minimal memory items, etc). There are many unwritten items of technique, procedure, and system operation that have evolved in fire operations over the years that would dictate appropriate changes to a 30-50 year-old military or airline AFM.
Evaluate a basic smoke hood for aircrews.
Evaluate appropriate supplemental oxygen breathing systems for aircrews.
Evaluate fuel tank inerting systems appropriate for airtanker operations.
Equip all bases with MicroMotion monitors, and load tankers by weight, not gallons (with volumetric overflow/safety valve backup).
Provide Density Altitude information for each takeoff to alert crews to performance degradation. DA could be included on the dispatch sheet and/or with a radio call when reloading.
Walt Darran, AAF Safety Committee Chairman