HAC claims to represent operators of 80% of the helicopters in Canada. It doesn't even mention representing pilots and at least I will give them credit for that little bit of honesty.
And who represents Canadian helicopter pilots. I can see people reaching for their mouse already but think about this. Can you think of another profession that is not represented by some kind of an association? Call it what you want. Union, association, professional college - they are all more or less the same. All those operators who condemn pilots who even mention organizing are the same ones that pay dues to HAC to forward the operators agendas. Doctors, lawyers, engineers - the real ones........relax, it was a joke to lighten things up - are all represented by an association of some kind. And they use paid employees not good-intentioned individuals volunteering their time, and possibly their employment opportunities, as we do in our industry.
So, how are the various pilot groups (for lack of a better term) affected?
The low-time pilot trying to get that first flying job after dropping a ton of money getting that magical license that will lead to fame and fortune - at least that is what many schools would have you believe. In years past, operators were able to access funds from the government to endorse someone on an aircraft or teach them longline skills, or mountain flying. Now, we have the next best thing - it is called the Foreign Worker Program. When we had helicopter pilots on CBC talking about it, where was HAC? To be honest, because I am not a dues paying member of HAC, I have no idea what is being told to operators regarding the program, but would not be the least bit surprised if there was something about how to access it. The operator will say that insurance or the customer demands minimum numbers of hours. I was able to build hours with forestry when no other pilots were available. There are a million jobs that a low-time pilot can handle on a fire. It simply requires a little bit of organizing skill on the part of forestry. It does require a huge amount of skill to follow a pipeline!! An oil company demands a minimum number of hours - fine, pay for it - and pay dearly. Those operators that lowball the rates - and there lots of them since deregulation - should still have to pay a minimum amount for a pilot to fly that multi-million dollar aircraft. If an insurance company says you have to hire a pilot with X number of hours or we are going charge you for it, so be it - raise your charter rates - quit taking it out on crews. And if the operator says that he / she is unable to survive, then maybe, you shouldn't be in the business.
For the medium time pilot who figures they have the world by tail. Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you want a life beyond Buffalo Narrows in the summer? Or Fort Nelson? According to HAC the most dire event affecting the helicopter industry right now is the flight/duty times being contemplated by Transport Canada. Heaven forbid that a pilot moving crews or drills or anything else would not be able to put in a 14 hour duty day for 56 days straight. I defy you to find a job with the responsibilities we have that lets you work those kind of hours. And as for the places we are expected to stay in - well, that is part of the job, but we should expect that we will be in at least as good accommodation as the person running the show. I understand that last year, the OMNR had crews doubling up to avoid a short ferry flight to single occupancy rooms. That is illegal. And speaking of ferry flights. How many of you have resented the fact that you are flying a helicopter across the country for free. Just because the operator wants to do it, why are they taking it out on the crews. The crews, in effect, are subsidizing the operator. Oh, and by the way, have you heard that the OMNR is planning on negotiating minimums this year. Along with averaging, are you kidding me?? So now, your Operations Manager "negotiates" a one hour a day minimum to get the job, you fly your butt off for the first five days to save some town, and sit picking your nose for 14 hours a day for the next month while your minimums are eaten up. In the meantime, Manitoba is burning up and you can't go there. The best thing that the industry could do is have Ontario go up in smoke and no one went. And when the press wondered why Timmons burned, they could be told about how the industry is treated. You have now been in the business for ten - twelve years, do you have a company sponsored pension plan. Do you think CPP is going to cut it??
So you are flying a medium moving drills or something like that. Have you thought of drones? In Afghanistan, they are using drones to longline gear in zero/zero visibility. And they have found that it was quite easy to integrate those drones within the ATC structure. A driller simply looks at his GPS and relays the coordinates to staging and you have a machine on it's way. Twenty years ago we hadn't even heard of GPS, now they come in a Crackerjack box. Have you read Vertical or Helicopters Magazine regarding the remotely controlled helicopters being used in agriculture in Japan?? Since 1997!!!!!! Pipeline patrols would be a snap and I am a little surprised it hasn't happened yet. And you think no one can do your job? I remember a pilot studying IFR thirty+ years ago and me thinking what stupid thing to do - a helicopter is far too complicated to have an autopilot. Shows what I know!
So don't think that your job is safe just because you have a few medium endorsements, can longline, and have a mountain course. And who is going to stick up for you when you become redundant?
Have you read the HAC contracts that have been produced and are creating "considerable interest from members". They were created by an employment law firm. Are you going to have your lawyer explain to you everything in it? Or are you too cool to do that? Do you think this document was created to serve your purposes?
As for the high time pilot having been in the industry for thirty years, I hope you have saved enough to act as your pension plan. Do you have some kind of insurance in the event you lose your medical? Who is speaking for you? Often, it is the high-time pilot that is the bane of the industry. Who hasn't heard, "That's the way it has always been and always will be." Yeah, and when you started, the only computers made were from IBM and used by the military and government, and telephones used a dial. There are undoubtedly chief pilots out there that do look out for their pilots, but they are far and few between, and are much more likely to go along with other management types, to protect their own interests.
When CARAC was looking for input regarding flight/duty times, it was suggested that helicopter pilots weren't really able to comment on the regulations because there was no one that represented them. We need someone to speak for us. Anyone that believes they can do just fine on their own, is either incredibly naïve or just plain stubborn / stupid. You pick.
I could go on forever but would imagine that some eyes are starting to glaze over.
Remember, HAC represents 80% of the helicopters in Canada. Can you imagine if a pilot association represented 80% of the helicopter pilots in Canada? Would some of our concerns be addressed?
There is absolutely no doubt that there are operators out there that are first class already, but there are not many of them, and they certainly do not represent the majority of companies. We all know who they are and anything that the pilots agreed to would really not affect them at all because they are already there.