Beware the dark side: The ethical dilemma facing HEMS
Thursday, February 27, 2014
"Fear, anger, aggression, the dark side are they," Yoda warns Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi." "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny."
The central figure in Star Wars is "the force," an entity with a dual nature — a good and an evil side. The good side of the force responds when those who have adequate faith call upon it for the betterment of all. Its dark side, however, is quicker, seductive and can tempt people into doing evil.
It is easy to see many parallels between the Star Wars movies and the current pilot shortage facing HEMS operators. The overwhelming shortage of qualified helicopter pilots has created ethical dilemmas for everyone associated with HEMS.
In September 2003, air medical industry leaders met in Salt Lake City to discuss issues facing medical flight programs. They identified several factors threatening the industry. One of the most important topics was the coming pilot shortage.
"Emergency medical services helicopter programs may face a critical shortage of adequately trained pilots," wrote Frank Thomas, MD, MB, and his fellow members of The Dobee Group in Air Medical Journal in 2003.
The group further stated that there needs to be a pool of qualified and trained pilots. After more than a decade, this board's insight has come to fruition.
There is a critical shortage of qualified pilots. Moreover, the problem remains largely unresolved and consequently has morphed into ethical challenges facing HEMS leadership.
There is a dark force rising throughout the younger pilot community, and it is creating an ethical dilemma for everyone. Recent reports reveal an alarming fact. Young helicopter padawans striving for a flying career are succumbing to the "dark side" and using nonapproved methods to get results.
A number of recent interviews with pilots and HEMS check airman confirm the reality that there is a growing trend of helicopter pilots under the age of 40 "hedging their logbooks" to meet minimum HEMS requirements. This creates an ethical dilemma for the applicant but also other fellow starving pilots.
Many qualified pilots that have put in time and money to achieve the required hours and are claiming these recent cases as "stolen valor." However, no one wants to "rat out his buddy" and thus many choose to remain silent. What is stolen valor, and how does it relate to HEMS?
Many of the qualified HEMS pilots come from the military. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 makes it illegal to make military claims with the intent to obtain money, property or other tangible benefits. Taking liberties with one's military flight experience and producing a personal logbook that meets HEMS requirements is a dangerous path for pilots and operators.
A recent case provides an example. A company instructor pilot (remains anonymous) revealed, "How can someone achieve so many flight hours and experience and be under 40? It's almost too good to be true."
In fact, after checking the applicant's recent official Army flight record, it was clear that this padawan had succumb to the dark side. The pilot was more than 700 hours short of the minimum HEMS pilot qualifications. He was subsequently given the opportunity to excel elsewhere.
Many other military pilots are coming forward, identifying this as a growing trend. The shortage of qualified helicopter pilots has created ethical dilemmas for pilots and their fellow peers.
Beware the dark side; it is quicker and more seductive, but in the long run destroys all it touches. Much has been written about the pressures managers face to "preserve the economic viability" of HEMS. Ethical decision-making becomes the challenge when facing the daunting task of hiring qualified pilots.
Guidance can be found in articles such as "Worldwide Competition Strategies between Ethical and Unethical Practices" and “Why Managers Bend Company Rules." Managers, investers and stakeholders alike must beware of the dangers that come with being preoccupied with economic efficiency instead of social responsibility.
When faced with an applicant under 40 years old claiming to have attained over 1,500 rotary PIC hours, one should listen to Yoda: "If you choose the quick and easy path, you will become an agent of evil."
Clearly, the pilot shortage is testing not only applicants but also industry leadership. The Air Medical Congress that convened in 2003 was spot-on, stating that "each party owns part of the truth to the safety question surrounding qualified pilots." What can be done about the shortage?
One solution to the ethical crisis would be to change the minimums to reflect the current market. It is unrealistic to maintain — let alone grow — HEMS and expect to find qualified pilots with 1,500 hours rotary PIC time and 2,000 total. Shareholders and corporate leaders must develop a means to either change the rules or develop a pool of qualified pilots.
Silver State Helicopters had a great concept but was a mismanaged company. There simply needs to be an immediate push for developing a pool of qualified pilots. If run correctly, Silver State Helicopters would have rivaled the Army helicopter pilot training program.
Corporate leadership should collaborate and develop a means to establish a large recruiting and training program similar to the original Silver State Helicopter mission of developing qualified helicopter pilots. Change the minimum requirements or develop a pool of qualified applicants.
Until these actions take place, we will continue to have an ethical crisis finding qualified HEMS pilots.
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Should the required rotary PIC time be lowered from 1,500 hours?
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