Safety First, Second, and Third

This article was initially published by AirMed&Rescue

When Mikko Dahlman, a HEMS helicopter pilot and founder and board member of Coptersafety, surveyed the effects of pilot error in helicopter crashes, he wanted to lay the foundation for change.

As a pilot, Mikko has witnessed the risks of complex situations and environments that are part of the job. He realized that the most important thing would be to train the right attitude towards safety. “From the very beginning my passion and vision have been to improve the safety culture in our industry,” he told AirMed&Rescue. “Helicopter operation can be high risk, and the safety culture is not always where it should be – yet. However, there is a lot we can do, for example, training the pilots adequately and thoroughly. Another critical factor in improving safety within the industry is a comprehensive approach and viewpoint. After all, most accidents are due to a pilot’s error. Hence, there is much we can do such as preparing the pilots mentally and physically as well as increasing their technical know-how.” It was Mikko’s own experiences that were ultimately the inception of Coptersafety.

Helicopter pilot safety Coptersafety

Experience counts

There is little doubt that Mikko’s 20-year experience flying as a helicopter SAR / HEMS pilot in the demanding conditions of Finland has benefited the company. A career as a pilot for FinnHEMS (under Babcock Scandinavian Air Ambulance) has given Mikko the knowledge to evaluate areas of training that require significant focus and allows him to understand clients and their needs better. In fact, Mikko has often been in the customer’s shoes as he has had to keep his license current.

Each of Coptersafety’s 20 instructors has at least 20 years of pilot experience and are still flying – something that is key to the company’s desire to provide top-notch training. Hiring highly experienced instructors with a range of flying backgrounds is a feature that complements Coptersafety’s customized training programmes. For example, if the customer is a HEMS operator, they will always be placed with an instructor who has experience from that field of operations. Mikko said: “This is a huge part of our core competence as we see that it provides tremendous value to the customer. After all, combining theoretical and practical knowledge is an unbeaten combination. There are things you cannot learn from books.”

Safety is key

Industry safety continues to be of paramount importance, and for Mikko, having a comprehensive approach that takes into account the pilot as an entity is a key. “After all,” he told AirMed&Rescue, “most helicopter accidents are due to human error. Thus, we should consider them as decision makers and see how they make decisions, especially under pressure or stress. The importance of this grows as the automation increases. A holistic approach is crucial for this. The simulator or an aircraft in itself is not enough.” He added: “Another important thing is building a community, in which challenges and drawbacks are openly brought up and discussed. Together as a team, we can take the industry forward.”

Regulations in the US and Europe do contain some key differences, some of which could be the reason why there are a higher number of helicopter accidents in the US than there are in European helicopter air ambulance operations. AirMed&Rescue asked if Mikko believes that the US could learn lessons from their European counterparts regarding safety standards. He responded: “We can all learn things from each other. Thus, increasing collaboration and discussion between different continents and countries would be significant. This also leads to my earlier point about the importance of enhancing communication and building a community.” He continued: “Over five percent of all helicopter accidents occur in HEMS activities. A uniform HEMS safety and quality standardization are paramount in order to improve the overall safety of helicopter emergency medical services. For example, in HEMS operations in Norway and Finland, we do a lot of training and undergo frequent checks to keep HEMS crew current.”

The ultimate goal

Creating and building a community that can play a role in enhancing the safety of helicopter operations is just one of the elements of his role that Dahlman enjoys his role with Coptersafety. Others, he explained to AirMed&Rescue, include seeing the customers enjoy their time with the company as they are provided with an opportunity to learn, and having flight instructors who truly bring and provide additional value to the pilots.

“However,” he concluded, “our primary goal is to improve the safety level in helicopter operation; this is the vital factor that drives the entire Coptersafety team and me. I could not be happier to have been able to surround myself with such a great group of people who are committed to our vision, and most of all to have customers who genuinely believe in us and are excited to be part of building a brighter helicopter future.”

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