I am halfway through a two and a half week, somewhat unexpected business trip. Although I retired from full time employment over a year ago, my aim was to remain engaged with the helicopter community in some capacity, primarily because I enjoy it but also in recognition that it gives my life some degree of meaning. To the extent, philosophically speaking, that is possible.
So last week I was in and around Cleveland for six days, and now I am traveling through West Virginia for several days. North Carolina and (briefly) South Carolina next week, and then home for literally an evening before I leave for another trip to Baja California.
I'm performing Line Operations Safety Audit(s), or LOSA (LOW-sah), working directly for a company called the LOSA Collaborative, and traveling to their client's helicopter EMS (emergency medical services) bases. LOSA is based upon an interesting, longstanding phenomena in the piloting community, which is that pilots act differently--sometimes quite differently--when they're being evaluated, as opposed to when they alone. A pilot being evaluated will maintain strict adherence to the thousand of rules that are meant to guide virtually every moment he is in control of, or responsible for, an aircraft. No surprise there, as an evaluation is meant to gauge such adherence, and the implications of failing an evaluation are what have kept every pilot in the history of aviation awake at night at least once.
But when the evaluator is gone, pilots rarely maintain the same level of adherence. And in the less-regulated world of helicopters the deviations can be quite large, which you can imagine can be problematic from a risk standpoint, and so a LOSA observation tries to capture what goes on in this non-evaluation, everyday operations world. I'm still in the cockpit with the pilot, but all my observations are anonymous and non-attributional for the crew and so it's the closest we can get to the pilot being alone and us still being able to observe him or her.
Essentially I observe the pilot, make notes of his notably commendable behavior and his errors and non-compliance, and then thank him and head back to the hotel. He never gets in trouble (or commended), as the notes are anonymous. In return for their commitment not to sanction a particular pilot the company gets a window into what is actually going on from day to day. Or not going on, as the case may be.
This project is actually a first for the helicopter community, and it may lead to other projects (possibly international) in the future.