Flight Safety Foundation’s Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) Program was developed from the outset to standardize remote-operations risk mitigation within the natural resource sector (ASW, 3/10), which focuses on global onshore exploration and extraction of minerals, metals, oil and gas. Approaching 2014, this evolving audit program also extracts precious safety insights from aircraft operators’ shared data and influences other types of industries and flying, program veterans say.
“The BARS Program was designed by resource companies, in conjunction with the Foundation, to mitigate the risk of aviation activities undertaken in support of this sector,” said Greg Marshall, BARS managing director. “The BAR Standard was derived from an amalgam of different standards that were adopted by a variety of onshore and offshore resource-sector companies. These different standards were derived from experience born of accidents, too many of which, unfortunately, were fatal. The BAR Standard represents the best practice across both BMOs [BARS member organizations] and non-member organizations. A current benchmarking exercise against other standards is validating this.
“Within many companies, safety is the number one priority for all personnel, and many workplace safety risks associated with mining activities are well known. What is less well known are the risks that exist within aviation operations, particularly those that are conducted at remote locations in often-inhospitable environments. A number of unrelated aviation activities have risk profiles similar to those of the resource sector and this means that BARS can easily be adopted within those other sectors as well.”
The latest data for the global resource sector show flight operations still increasing as minerals/metals/energy exploration and extraction extend into extremely remote areas. “The global resource sector continues to increase its reliance on contracted aviation activities in remote areas not frequently serviced by regular public transport services,” said Cameron Ross, group manager aviation safety, BHP Billiton, a BARS Program member and benefactor. “Large production mine sites, such as those in Western Australia supporting the iron ore business, are typically serviced by dedicated, high-capacity charter aircraft. Globally, fly-in fly-out operations operate in extreme cold weather and remote desert and jungle environments, each with their own added risk factors.”
BARS defines a hostile environment as one in which “a successful emergency landing cannot be assured, or the occupants of the aircraft cannot be adequately protected from the elements, or search and rescue response/capability cannot be provided consistent with the anticipated exposure.” A non-hostile environment is one in which “a successful emergency landing can be reasonably assured, and the occupants of the aircraft can be adequately protected from the elements, and search and rescue response/capability can be provided consistent with the anticipated exposure.”
These terms have serious practical effects on BMOs’ remote operations. “The significance of hostile versus non-hostile is illustrated in the selection of aircraft for passenger-carrying operations, ensuring one-engine-inoperative performance at the ambient conditions being operated in,” Ross said. “BHP Billiton operates in hostile environments in the Andes mountains of Chile, deep-water offshore locations and the heavily forested/jungle environments of Indonesia and West Africa.”
Gradually, the significant aviation safety events (see “Australian Incidents”) in the resource sector are being better reported and tracked by the BARS program, and the information is being used to assist BMOs in checking their own aviation assurance controls and in supporting further development of the BAR Standard when reviewed by the participating resource-sector members.
“BARS hasn’t yet been identified by a national government as a source of data that can assist with the identification of risk areas within certain regions or countries,” Marshall said. “However, the Foundation has signed a memorandum of cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization to facilitate the exchange of de-identified data to support regional risk oversight. This is currently in the formative stages. Within the industry, the Foundation has already commenced the publication of de-identified data from a macro perspective on findings from resource-sector audits, in addition to the introduction of our Internet-based Safety Alert system for aviation-related safety events reported by the resource sector. The latest statistical data from audit analysis will be summarized and prepared for broad release by December 2013.”
One example of an aviation incident in 2012 involved a fly-in fly-out charter operator and a privately operated helicopter — both engaged in remote operations for Australia’s natural resource sector. On Sept. 6 at 1300 local time, the pilot of a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter crossed Runway 05 about 200 ft above ground level and 200 m (656 ft) in front of a departing Beech 1900C at Newman Aerodrome, an unmanned/uncontrolled airfield located 5.5 nm (10.2 km) from the iron-mining town of Newman in Western Australia.1
The pilot-in-command (PIC) flying the 1900C, seeing the helicopter taxi toward the runway when the airplane was about 300–450 m (984–1,476 ft) down the runway and at 80 kt, and believing that the trajectories of the two aircraft would conflict if the 1900C became airborne, rejected the takeoff at about 120 kt, said the final report of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).
“After ferrying personnel from Rhodes Ridge [a massive iron-ore deposit] to a survey site about 28 km [15 nm] northeast of Newman, the pilot of [the AS350] flew to Newman Aerodrome to refuel and to have a minor unserviceability rectified,” the report said. “After waiting some time, the pilot was advised that one of the people at the survey site had been injured and required evacuation.”
Pilots of both aircraft had made very high frequency (VHF) radio transmissions about their positions and intentions on the common traffic advisory frequency. “As the [1900C] commenced the takeoff roll, the [PIC] heard the pilot of [the AS350] transmit a taxi call but did not expect the helicopter to commence a takeoff,” the report said. The helicopter initially taxied across the apron, entered the runway strip, then turned left to conduct a takeoff parallel to Runway 05.
“The pilot of [the AS350] only became aware of [the 1900C] when he heard the co-pilot transmit ‘KFN aborting,’” the report said. The helicopter pilot previously had heard only one garbled radio transmission.
The report said that causal factors included the helicopter pilot feeling pressured to immediately fly to the survey site to evacuate the injured person. “In his haste to transit to the site, he had turned right across the runway when the normal procedures required him to turn left,” the report said.
ATSB determined that a number of hangars constructed west of the general aviation apron obstructed pilots’ view from that apron to the threshold of Runway 05, and that the hangars probably had blocked VHF radio transmissions between the incident aircraft. Information about the risk of radio-transmission blocking, as well as revised helicopter departure procedures, were scheduled to be published. ATSB currently is conducting investigations into several other incidents involving charter aircraft associated with the resource sector.2
Preliminary information said that on May 17, 2012, the flight crew of a de Havilland Canada DHC-8 that had departed from Perth received a ground proximity warning system warning about 10 nm (16 km) from Laverton Airport during their approach to Granny Smith Airport, all in Western Australia. They continued the unstable approach and landed at the airport located at the Granny Smith Gold Mine.
On Oct. 19, 2012, at 1530 local time, the flight crew of a Fokker F-28 Mk 100 that had departed from Perth encountered wind shear during final approach and subsequently made a hard landing at Nifty Aerodrome, also in Western Australia. Serious damage was reported. A newspaper said that 26 fly-in fly-out workers arriving at the Nifty copper mine were aboard but no occupants were injured.
On Jan. 10, 2013, air traffic control advised the flight crew of an Embraer ERJ 170 descending through 18,000 ft to land at McArthur River Mine airport, Northern Territory, that the aircraft was 6 nm (11 km) left of track and diverging. “The crew detected an error in their manual input of data into the FMS [flight management system],” the report said.
- ATSB. “Airspace related event involving Beech 1900C, VH-KFN, and Aerospatiale AS350 B2, VH-VRW, Newman aerodrome, Western Australia, 6 September 2012.” ATSB Transport Safety Report, Aviation Occurrence Investigation AO-2012-118, April 23, 2013.
- ATSB. Investigation numbers, in order, AO-2012-170, AO-2012-137 and AO-2013-10. Adshead, Gary. “‘Hard landing’ grounds plane.” The West Australian, Oct. 24, 2012.
Value of Auditing
Traditional audits in the resource sector have been broad-based, attempting to cover all aspects of an aviation operation — including activities involving little risk — once per year, Marshall said. “Not only are these expensive, they may also offer very little value because the low-risk or inconsequential-risk activities are being assessed.”
Today’s BARS program has essentially a two-step assessment process. A BARS audit of the aircraft operator at its home base assesses internal systems to ensure that the necessary controls — the proven mitigators of risk — are established. Then, an operational review is conducted of the “identified, higher-endpoint risks at a frequency determined by the level of relative risk,” he said.
“These reviews are undertaken by either the BMO’s in-house aviation risk manager or by a competent aviation specialist contracted to provide specialist advice,” Marshall said. “Low-risk activities can be excluded from reviews when the activities offer little, if any, value. In some cases, operational reviews may not be needed.”
At BHP Billiton, contract aircraft operators’ remote operations have been enhanced by collective lessons derived from de-identified/aggregate findings of BARS audits. “The data are in, and lack of procedures for stabilized approach is a good example of a finding that has been successfully closed for many operators,” Ross said. “This is in line with FSF ALAR [approach-and-landing accident reduction] work, and is a key control in the prevention of these accidents. Emergency-response planning — which includes comprehensive flight following — is always a challenge for remote area operations, and often discussed during an audit and the operation pre-start phase.
“The ability to review a BARS audit report allows a BMO to readily understand those aspects of the operator’s risk-control design that meet the prescribed audit protocol. This is the first step in any assurance process and an important one for the industry. An intended benefit of the program is the data collected from the audit process, which — in addition to tracking industry accident data — allows the Flight Safety Foundation to provide meaningful feedback to the BARS program’s Technical Advisory Committee in regard to the BAR Standard and to the program.”
Over the years, a number of companies in the resource sector also monitored traffic growth within areas of remote operation, especially those in which national or regional air navigation service providers could have difficulty providing services. Ross said that a new network of ground stations has begun to change the situation, for example, in the northwestern part of Western Australia. Nationwide automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast (ADS-B) avionics coverage takes effect in 2014.
“The use of ADS-B, both onshore and offshore, is widely supported by BHP Billiton, and its implementation in Western Australia has had a very positive effect on our activities,” he said. “Satellite flight following, TAWS [terrain awareness and warning systems], GNSS [global navigation satellite system] approaches and any controls that reduce the likelihood of VFR [visual flight rules] flight in degraded visual conditions are supported.”
“ADS-B will be a significant contributor to safety,” Marshall added. “For example, the huge growth in aviation support of mining in the Pilbara region brought about congestion problems over much of the controlled and uncontrolled airspace, which is outside radar coverage. ADS‑B avionics fitment to some of these resource sector–contracted aircraft will minimize traffic conflicts and promote operational efficiency.”
BARS audits, from their beginning, have been sensitive to threats of high common interest to BMOs: runway excursions, fuel exhaustion, fuel contamination, controlled flight into terrain, incorrect loading, collision on ground, collision in air, structural or mechanical failure, weather, medical evacuation, and preparation for aircraft accidents. BMOs’ experiences have validated these priorities heading into 2014, but also have prompted concentration on helicopter external load, offshore and night vision system (NVS) operations to keep pace with industrywide best practices. NVS are widely used in helicopter emergency medical services, and a number of BARS-audited aircraft operators provide contract medical retrieval for the resource sector, Marshall said.
The BARS Safety Alert system and BARSoft online-discussion forums — set to be introduced in a website upgrade by the end of 2013 — will become especially valuable for delivering/exchanging safety information relevant to remote operations.
“The Safety Alert system has been reserved for reporting significant aviation safety-related events, and only a few such alerts have been released since its introduction,” Marshall said. “One of these was actually supplied to us by a non-member in the interest of safety dissemination. Initially, the forums will allow us to introduce a Fixed-Wing Working Group and a Rotary-Wing Working Group in which industry participants review and discuss the various BARS elements, and will seek feedback on improvements to the BAR Standard.”
Analyses of BARS safety audits of aircraft operators and BMOs’ feedback show that risk controls have been effective elements of safety management systems (SMS), the BARS veterans say. “The whole philosophy of SMS is to improve the resilience of organizations and to make systems safer,” Marshall said. “Audit findings have proven to be a very good benchmark in this area. The number of findings emanating from our deep-dive audit has increased over previous audits undertaken using traditional methods. In some parts of the world, the BARS audit is often the first time that an aircraft operator has experienced a comprehensive review of its operations. Our key P1 [highest priority] and P2 [second-highest priority] findings must be closed — and by prescribed dates.”
Eventually, in a manner similar to an International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit for airlines, the BARS Program envisions capability to compare safety outcomes in remote operations among BARS-accredited and non-BARS-accredited operators over the years. “This process has already commenced,” Marshall said. “An initial report was produced in 2012, and a new report will be published in late 2013. As audit volume increases with the growth of the BARS Program, so, too, will the depth of analysis by region and country.” Such an independent effort gradually can encompass exposure data (such as accurate total departure numbers) that have been missing for calculating accident/incident rates.
The BARS Program also strongly promotes the use of specific technologies as a best practice and helps the safety specialists at aircraft operators make the business case for them in remote operations. “TAWS/EGPWS [Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning Systems] and GNSS approaches, where published, are significant contributors to safety in remote locations — especially where these occur in challenging environments,” Marshall said.
“We are seeing this data start to emerge,’’ Ross said. “But I do see the independence of the Foundation and the BARS Program Office presenting a massive opportunity for the resource sector to gather data and collate it in a non-identifying manner that doesn’t implicate resource companies and aircraft operators — it’s data that can be used for the benefit of the entire industry. The effectiveness of each control is continuously tested through the review of incident and accident data, and where applicable, involves amending and updating the BAR Standard.”
At the remote field level, he said, BHP Billiton’s involvement in creating and sustaining the BARS Program has benefited aviation risk mitigation in the transportation of workers to remote mining operations; geophysical surveys; helicopter external load flights; photographic missions; medical evacuation flights; and providing appropriate aircraft rescue and firefighting capability at company-owned and company-operated airports.
The company’s offshore safety interests also are compatible with many aspects of the BARS Program’s evolution in supporting remote operations. “BHP Billiton operates offshore in the United Kingdom, Trinidad, the Gulf of Mexico, Australia and various exploration sites internationally,” Ross said. “Offshore helicopter operations have their own unique hazards, particularly when operations go farther offshore in deep water, where search and rescue, aircraft endurance and survivability factors become tested. Cold-water operations provide additional challenges. Fortunately, there are large global helicopter service providers who understand these risks and provide the equipment and personnel to service these requirements.”
One notable offshoot of the BARS Program that now influences remote operations is facilitating continuing education for BMOs and aircraft operators. “Such education and training is vital to develop and support a desired safety culture, particularly in remote field operations,” Marshall said.
Aviation Coordinator course training has been beneficial in raising awareness of aviation safety risks and how they are to be addressed by non-technical, onshore and offshore personnel, Ross said. “Among other controls, the importance of flight following, manifesting, search-and-rescue capabilities and emergency response planning are all explained in detail with examples,” he said.
The Helicopter External Load Operations course was developed to provide a standard training course for ground personnel and aircrew. The course — although designed initially for exploration activities such as carrying under-slung loads of remote-site drilling equipment — in practice has attracted diverse operators from other industries.
The course “simply relates to any load that might be hooked onto an aircraft,” Ross said. That means it also supports mission readiness for unexpected emergency roles for helicopter operators such as in fire fighting, rescue of mining personnel, and the delivery of food, supplies and people who provide on-site expertise at remote sites.
The current courses have been delivered to resource sector attendees in Yellowknife, Nunavut (the Canadian arctic territory, ASW, 9/13); Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and other parts of Canada. “This is expected to continue,” Marshall said, as the BARS Program revises and adds courses that tap into expertise in extremely cold environments.
Two courses under development — Aviation Coordinator for Offshore Personnel and Aviation Risk for Managers — are being designed to fill other knowledge gaps among some personnel in the resource sector. “A beta version of the Aviation Coordinator for Offshore Personnel course was held in Houston in October,” he said.