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23 June 2016

From East to West: a Safety Culture Journey in China

By Steven Cespedes

I had the honour and privilege of attending and presenting at the 3rd annual China Civil Helicopter Operation & Development Forum in Beijing, which took place on 27th May, 2016. It was Ideagen's first conference in mainland China but a major part of our Aviation strategy to further grow in this fast moving and expanding region.

Among the early discussions at the event was the drastic drop in fuel prices, of which we are all aware of its impact on the helicopter domain, and in China it is no different. Their offshore companies are now required to find innovative ways to remain competitive and improve internal efficiencies while ensuring and improving safety levels.

On the subject of safety, what I found interesting was the unknown benchmark of "safety levels" in China. The various industry safety groups have common objectives to improve safety with one of them being "safety information exchange". This is a challenge, not just in China, but globally, and especially in domains like HEMS operations, where varying or lack of data on flight hours makes it very hard to normalise data. In China, however, the local culture of honour, confidentiality and competition, although very noble, is a significant barrier for newly formed groups like the China Helicopter Safety Team. The honourable culture is not to share information and data with one another which is exactly the opposite of the culture adopted and promoted by leading safety forums in other parts of the world.

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While at the event, I noticed that there were various presentations from HEMS operators, which is an extremely young domain in China with very few operators. To put this into context, the USA has 300 HEMS operators versus approximately 15 in China. However, China has a strong relationship with their healthcare infrastructure development and as this matures the HEMS market will also expand.

Staying with HEMS, one presentation during the event spoke about the dangers of local populations approaching a HEMS helicopter when landing due to the novelty of never seeing one before, something the presenter wanted to change as local populations start to become accustomed to HEMS services. Again, this shows the importance of creating a safety culture through education and sharing information and data.

The Aviation industry in China has a strong projected growth, but its safety culture and professional experience are struggling to keep up. The Government is encouraging investment in the industry, which is fantastic news, but how much of that focus is on the assets as opposed to a true safety culture?

Finally, my presentation on how Ideagen’s software solutions support an organisations SMS was well received. Despite all presentations being conducted via translators, there was plenty of interaction and questions from the audience. What is clear is that there are various operators already on the SMS journey but lack a modern system to support their operations and growth potential.

Overall there are a number of great opportunities on the horizon in China and with an improved safety focus and culture, I think there will be brilliant developments in the Chinese Helicopter industry.

If you want to find out about Ideagen's solutions for aviation safety management within Helicopters, then please get in touch.

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