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.