They say that death is a part of life; we all know that is how the circle goes. However, it does not make the last eight weeks of losses in the aerial firefighting industry any easier to stomach. Crashes in Portugal, Greece, the USA, and recent crashes in New Mexico and Idaho have cost far too many lives this season.
The aerial firefighting industry is pretty good about self-regulation and holding each other accountable. However, there is always room for improvement. The aircraft is only as good as its structural integrity and the mechanics that keep it sound.
The unfortunate thing about our aerial firefighting, and the aviation industry in general, is that other than the mechanical failure of parts, many human factors can cause crashes. Aircraft flown outside of limitations, checklists getting skipped, and complacency setting in that lead to critical errors are all factors that can potentially cause a crash. All of that is before we factor in things we can’t control, like the weather.
I could go on forever listing the possible ways you can meet your maker flying aircraft, but we are all aware that one misstep can cause any of us to lose our lives in this business.
Unlike APSA, which represents public safety, AMTC, which represents Air Medical, and HAI, which focuses on everything rotary, or NAAA, which covers agricultural aviation, no association focuses the way these organizations do on the aerial firefighting world. This is one of the frustrations within our industry.
Having just come from APSA’s APSCON show in Reno, I had time to speak with many of the association representatives from APSA, from their CEO to their safety and education directors, many that I have known for over a decade. The one thing I can say about APSA is they represent their market well, from appearing before congress to speak on behalf of the industry to do what they can to educate association members or impact safety; they do it all.
This makes me wonder why we as an aerial firefighting industry have not banded together to create the same kind of industry representation. One that can not only speak for the whole sector but make an impact on safety, perhaps one that could prevent some loss of life along the way. I, for one, would support the creation of a large industry body that could then speak as the collective voice of the thousands of us that make up this industry, from both the public and private sides of the house.
I think for an industry that continues to grow every year, in both personnel and aircraft working in the sector, we are, without representation and a collective voice, a rudderless ship that is unable to provide data and input where it is needed when sweeping changes like those proposed by federal agencies are suggested.
Instead, only individual voices are sought for public input, and it is left to individuals, companies, and other local representatives to speak up and the voice heard is not as loud as a collective one would be. I think the time has come for our industry, which is over 50 years old, to have an association that can form objectives to make positive changes in the industry a reality.
Without this, we continue to accept crashes and loss of life as the norm. While I am not naive enough to believe we can completely eradicate fatalities, we owe it to those lost to at least make a collective effort to raise awareness and prevent others from making past mistakes that have cost lives.