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Sundance Helicopters first in US to implement two FAA safety programs

A Southern Nevada helicopter operator has become the first air tour company in the country to implement two Federal Aviation Administration safety programs that encourage the self-reporting of issues to head off accidents.

Sundance Helicopters, a subsidiary of Englewood, Colo.-based Air Methods, has implemented the FAA‘€™s Aviation Safety Action Program and the Maintenance Safety Action Program to identify safety concerns, operational deficiencies, noncompliance of regulation, deviations from company policy and unusual events to foster open discussions.

Air Methods, a 35-year-old company with more than 300 bases in 48 states and focused on medical transport, undertook the programs years ago as part of the company‘€™s corporate culture.

Sundance President Jay Francis said it made sense for the air tour company to adopt the same standards.

"For us, it was just the right thing to do because the program fosters an environment of self-disclosure, honesty and transparency,"€ Francis said.

Mark Schlaefli, Sundance‘€™s director of operations, said the company‘€™s leadership began looking into adopting the programs in early 2014.

It took about a year to complete the training and education necessary to initiate the programs.

Schlaefli said Sundance puts pilots and maintenance technicians through extensive education and training that goes beyond FAA requirements. The quality of training is verified through rigorous testing and followed up with performance monitoring systems.

The FAA oversees and inspects certificated carriers on a regular basis. Operators under an Aviation Safety Action Program resolves safety issues through corrective actions instead of punishment or discipline.

Safety data collected under the program are used to develop corrective actions for identified safety concerns and to prevent a recurrence of the same type of event.

"The program actually protects the license and protects employees and their jobs,"€ Francis said. "€œWe use open communication to correct a mistake before it becomes a problem."€

Francis said it would be difficult to calculate how much it cost Sundance to implement the program, but to him, the cost is irrelevant.

"€œIt‘€™s something that we wanted to do, to build an environment of trust,"€ he said. "€œIt‘€™s like when a family goes through a rough time. You sit down as a family and talk openly to resolve your issues. And that‘€™s how we look at it. We’€™re like a big family."

The company has no plans to market the adoption of the program as a means of increasing the 160,000 passengers Sundance flies annually.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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