The North Star Practices’ (NSP) purpose is to improve safety in floatplane operations, but what exactly is it and how does it benefit the industry?
To find out more about the NSP, we spoke with Jim Hartwell, an experienced pilot who is currently a member of the Air Carriers Safety Working Group and Northern Air Transport Association (NATA). Hartwell, who lives in Campbell River, BC, started his career as a pilot in Saskatchewan during the 1970s, before gaining flying experience in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. He then returned to his home province to fly floatplanes on the British Columbian coast. During the early stages of the safety programme’s development, Hartwell was serving as administrator for the Floatplane Operators’ Association, which has since been absorbed into NATA. Today, he is actively working on and promoting the North Star Practices in the aviation industry.
From 2000 to 2009, there were 111 fatal aviation accidents in BC, which resulted in more than 200 deaths, of which 85 were onboard commercial operators’ aircraft. In 2012, a panel of aviation experts presented a report to the Chief Coroner of BC, who then provided recommendations to Transport Canada, NavCanada, WorkSafeBC and the BC Forest Safety Council. Hoping to see a consistent set of safety practices, which could be used by operators who fly workers into work sites, the BC Forest Safety Council approached the Floatplane Operators’ Association for assistance in developing a safety programme to reduce the number of accidents in the region. As a result, the Air Carriers Safety Working Group (ACSWG) was formed.
The ACSWG consists of Jim Hartwell, BC Forest Safety Council’s Dustin Meierhofer, experienced seaplane pilot and accident investigator Vince Crooks, as well as NATA Executive Director Glenn Priestly. The North Star Practices, as the safety programme was named, is a set of operating standards and procedures, which includes an auditing system that provides assurance to clients, regulators and the public that an operator has not only met the basic Transport Canada regulations, but operates above those regulations at a higher standard. To operators, the NSP is intended to improve business performance by enhancing safety in an efficient and effective manner. Pilots benefit from the programme, as it provides guidance on safe practices and assists them in making decisions. “We are trying to encourage operators to put this programme into their safety management systems,” said Hartwell. “It is an easy fit.”
For the most part, the NSP relies on self-auditing, but every third year the operator is audited by an independent auditor. That said, how would one know whether an operator is compliant throughout the three-year period? Well, the programme requires operators to make use of satellite tracking, primarily for safety reasons, but also so that, on one or two occasions during the year, an operator’s flights can be monitored by the ACSWG. This adds an element of transparency to the programme. All of the practices contained within the NSP, along with all relevant documentation and information are available on www.northstarpractices.org. An operator that meets the required level of compliance is awarded a ‘North Star’, a symbol which can be displayed to indicate that it is an approved ‘North Star’ operator. In Hartwell’s words, “If you see that logo on the side of an airplane or inside an office, it is indicative that the operator is making a concerted effort to improve safety.”
So far, response from the industry has been positive, as operators are keen to receive recognition for their safety standards. “There is a wanting for a consistent set of safety practices,” said Hartwell. “I think it is timely for the industry to take a closer look and see what it can do to improve safety.”
By investing in safety, especially in this case in the west coast, where flying conditions can be challenging, an operator can expect to not only improve business performance, but earn favour from their clients, peers and the public. For further information, please visit www.northstarpractices.org.
Propellers have been used on aircraft for almost 115 years and have evolved to become more efficient and reliable, but do we really understand the tremendous forces and corrosion to which propellers are exposed? How frequently should an aircraft propeller be overhauled? Is the process absolutely necessary? What happens during an overhaul? To find answers to these questions, we paid a visit to Aero Propeller of Calgary.
Located near Calgary International Airport in Alberta, Aero Propeller of Calgary was founded in 1979. Two of its owners, Gord Thompson and Nash Javer, have been with the company since it first opened its doors nearly forty years ago. In 2008, they were joined by Kevin Samuel, an experienced aircraft maintenance engineer and structural technician. Combined, they have more than a century of experience in propeller maintenance. Most of the propellers that enter their workshop belong to general aviation and light commercial aircraft, but the team occasionally works on more interesting examples, such as that of a Hawker Hurricane and Douglas DC-6. When it comes to propeller maintenance, these men have seen it all and were happy to talk about overhauls in the context of aviation safety.
When determining the when a propeller, or related components, need to be overhauled, flight time or calendar dates are not the only factors one should consider. It is important to take operating conditions and the environment into consideration.
That said, what does an overhaul entail? The first step is to mount the propeller and visually inspect it. The paint is removed and blades are examined to see if they had been damaged in any way, and to measure dimensions to determine whether they can be overhauled. Once the propeller has been taken apart, the basic components are cleaned and degreased. The next step is to repair the damage and ensure that the components are within the manufacturer’s dimensional limits. All major components are then sent to a certified workshop for non-destructive inspection. Next, components are polished and dipped in a solution for corrosion protection, before being painted and receiving a durable polyurethane coating. Finally, the propeller is reassembled and set according to the manufacturer’s overhaul manual.
Internal corrosion is extremely dangerous and can only be detected when all the components have been taken a part and cleaned in a workshop. The importance of propeller inspections and overhauls cannot be overstated. When experiencing an engine failure, for the most part, the aircraft can glide and complete a safe forced landing. If, on the other hand, a propeller blade separates, the remainder of the flight can be considerably more eventful, if not catastrophic.
For further information on propeller maintenance, or advice regarding purchasing or owning a propeller, please contact Aero Propeller of Calgary at 403-291-9400.
Information on how frequently propellers need to be overhauled can be found on Transport Canada’s website, www.tc.gc.ca, in the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) section.
Analyzing or monitoring flight data is not a new concept, but it is surprising just how many misconceptions and myths there are regarding this remarkably important tool, especially now that modern technology has made it more accessible to smaller aircraft operators.
What exactly is Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) and how does it benefit operators? To find out, we contacted Dion Bozec of Scaled Analytics, based in Ottawa, on, who is passionate about developing modern FDM programmes.
In a nutshell, FDM, also commonly known as Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) or Flight Data Analysis (FDA), is a programme in which flight data is recorded and analyzed, with the goal of improving operating procedures and safety. With the right FDM system in place, operators benefit from increased operational efficiency and profitability.
According to Bozec, one of the biggest myths or assumptions is that FDM is a punitive programme, intended to evaluate pilots. Instead, FDM programmes are designed to look at trends, rather than individual performance, benefiting the entire company, including its pilots.
Many operators also erroneously believe that FDM is expensive, difficult to implement and only useful for airlines. In the past, FDM or FOQA systems were complex, requiring expensive hardware, highly specialized software and a host of engineers and it experts to manage the programme. Thankfully, technology has progressed to the point where this is no longer the case. Today, FDM is accessible and beneficial to any operator, regardless of the size of its fleet, even if it has only one light aircraft or helicopter.
FDM was originally developed to enhance safety and it continues to serve as a valuable component of safety management systems, but there is considerably more to the story than that. “A programme that involves reviewing flight data can benefit many departments within an organization, besides the safety department,” said Bozec. “An FDM programme can be extended to improving operational efficiency, monitoring maintenance events, monitoring or improving fuel efficiency, improving training programmes and reducing maintenance trouble shooting times, among other uses.”
As an example, with the use of FDM, an operator with only one aircraft in its fleet was able to detect a recurring problem with unstable approaches. A trend was discovered, measures were put in place and the number of unstable approaches was dramatically reduced.
Another operator had occasional overtemp problems with a turboprop engine on one of its aircraft. Each time an overtemp was indicated, the aircraft was grounded and its flight data recorder sent to the recorder’s manufacturer, which would download the data file and send it to the operator. On each occasion, the process would take five days, before the decision on whether the aircraft could fly was made. Now, with more modern techniques, retrieving the same information would take mere minutes, dramatically reducing the aircraft’s time on the ground.
Understanding the process
How exactly does FDM work? The first step is to record flight data. Most transport aircraft and helicopters have crash resistant Flight Data Recorders (FDR), called ‘black boxes’ by the media. These data recorders serve as hard drives, storing all the information sent to it by the aircraft’s Flight Data Acquisition Unit (FDAU).
Data can be recovered with a download unit and used for FDM, but there are disadvantages to using an FDR for this purpose. FDRs are only required to record 25 hours of data, download units are expensive and, depending on the aircraft, it might be difficult to access.
As a result, it might make more sense to use a Quick Access Recorder (QAR). This device is effectively a flight data recorder that is not crash survivable. Compared with an FDR, a QAR is small, light, easily accessible, more affordable and able to record more than 400 hours of information.
That said, these data recorders may not even be necessary. If the aircraft has modern avionics, such as the Garmin G1000, data can simply be saved on a memory card and used as part of an FDM programme. This can be particularly useful to smaller commercial operators or flying schools, as glass cockpits have become increasingly popular in even light general aviation aircraft.
Once the data has been downloaded, it needs to be processed by specialized software, which converts raw binary data into meaningful information. The software also looks for ‘events’ or situations where predefined limits were exceeded.
The resulting statistics and ‘events’ are then reviewed by a flight data analyst, who is able to identify unsafe or inefficient trends in flight operations. These steps can be accomplished with the help of a service provider. This would be particularly useful to smaller operators, which would otherwise need to employ a data analyst.
Once the information has been reviewed and examined, an analyst presents it to the operator’s decisionmakers in the form of charts or flight animations. Actionable, informed decisions can then be made to improve safety, efficiency and profitability. By continuously monitoring flight data, the impact and value of those decisions can be measured as the organization keeps working toward perfection.
In recent years, the cost of technology has become more affordable, creating real opportunities for smaller operators to benefit from FDM. With solutions provided by the likes of Scaled Analytics, decisionmakers and maintenance engineers are now able to access vital flight data and statistics online from anywhere in the world, quicker than ever.
For further information on how to benefit from the latest technology in Flight Data Monitoring, visit www.scaledanalytics.com