UPAC: Putting Collaboration Before Competition
When it comes to safety, UPAC puts collaboration before competition.
There are not many industries in aviation that require pilots to fly both slow and low through ‘wire environments’ as regularly as aerial work in the utility industry.
Colliding with wires or a ‘wire strike’ is a risk every pilot takes when they fly below 1000ft. Wires are hard to see and easy to hit, and the results are deadly.
In 1987, the number of these fatal crashes brought five individuals together from the industry to compile best practices for their vertical of aviation. Their subsequent meetings and discussions would begin to form the working group, UPAC (Utility, Patrol, and Construction).
Before this time, there was not much collaboration between independent companies regarding safety. Talking about mistakes or accidents left companies feeling vulnerable to criticism and led to concern about its impact on their reputation.
UPAC Chairman Jeff Johnson of Wilson Construction Co. which is based in Oregon, says that in the early days there was very little guidance available in the industry because of this.
“Operators were developing procedures with little, or no industry standards ,” Johnson explains, “As to how helicopter operations would be implemented into the various tasks within the industry.
In UPAC’s early days, members were primarily interested in promoting a dialog between operators on the specific hazards particular to power line and pipeline patrols, where there was a growing use of helicopters as well as a significant increase of wire strike accidents.
By openly sharing about their own experiences with similar incidents, the working group uncovered a broader need to educate people in their industry about interacting with the wire environment.
Sharing knowledge openly to create best practices and to promote actionable prevention is still the foundation of UPAC today.
UPAC now has over 60 members worldwide, including most of the major rotorcraft operators in the US, New Zealand, Australia, and representatives in Europe.
Johnson says that it’s been easy to promote UPAC because of the ‘tremendous support’ from its members and the unifying effort across the industry.
But it didn’t happen overnight. To openly discuss incidents took a high level of trust - which took a lot of time. It also required putting collaboration before competition.
“There’s no patent on safety. Best safe practices need to be shared which will benefit the entire industry and save lives,” Johnson explains.