Part 1 - Paul Kissmann Discusses Safety Culture In The World Of High Performance Aviation

TK: Hello folks and welcome to the Dicerra Podcast. I’m Theon te Koeti, CEO and founder of Dicerra. On the Dicerra podcast we talk about human performance in aviation and healthcare. Today we’re downtown Ottawa. This is the Between Two Ferns edition, I’m here with Paul Kissman, who’s one of the most experienced pilots in Canada. Has a really impressive resume, an ex fighter pilot with the Canadian Forces flew F5s and F18s. Experimental test pilot trained with Empire and who became the Chief Test Pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force and later became the Chief Test Pilot for the National Research Council of Canada. Also the Chief Pilot for Vintage Wings Canada and is now perhaps slightly different pace of operations flying wide body A330 for Air Canada, and is also the lead aviation advisor for Dicerra. So we’re super lucky to have you both on the show and with Dicerra. Paul, why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about how you got here?

PAUL: Well, first of all, thank you for the invitation, both to participate with Dicerra, and also this podcast. I’ve been super fortunate in my career, you know, I started out, have to give a shout out to the Air Cadets, started out there. You know, the 16 year old kid flying gliders getting my glider pilot licence before I even had a driver’s licence. And it really paved the way for me into military aviation, it gives you a taste of the culture. You know, and it also gives you a bit of a resume that the military can look at and say, yeah, this kid might be something one day. And so I sure owe a lot to that, that process. And I was fortunate throughout, you know, my back in the day, you had to have 20/20 uncorrected vision. There were all kinds of stumbling blocks that you had no control over. That, now some things are more lenient, and you could get by with classes or laser surgery, but we couldn’t back in the day. So I also am thankful for my good fortune, you know, whether it’s in health or in getting through all the hurdles that there were to getting into the military and, and for example, you know, I got straight on to fighters, many people wanted fighters. You know, when I started my course, we had 34 people on my course in Moose Jaw that wanted fighters out of 36 when we started and at the end we got four slots. So I was fortunate to be one of those four and that just set me up through out. I just managed to get through that and in the Test Pilot School and it’s just been one good fortune and enjoyable experience after another.

TK: That’s awesome. And was that the tutor back then for phase two? Moose Jaw? 

PAUL: Absolutely. Yeah, we went Musketeer phase one, which is a small low wing airplane, 180 horsepower, fixed gear. And then right on the tutor jet, which you can imagine was quite a big step up. I can still remember the first takeoff and the tutor. It was like this magical hand was pushing you mysteriously from somewhere because it was so quiet. You know, every airplane I’d flown before had an engine in front of me with a propeller with the vibration and the noise associated. Now you get into this magical jet. And the only thing that you heard was the air conditioning system blowing air. And the jets all behind you and the faster you go, the less you hear it. Yeah, I can. I will never forget that first takeoff.

TK: And then F5s with 419. 

PAUL: Yes. 

TK: F18s and then of course a range of aircraft with test pilot school including the F14D. 

PAUL: You bet. 

TK: So what’s the most interesting aircraft in your logbook?

PAUL: You know, people always ask you normally ask me what my favourite airplane is. And I always say the one that I’m sitting in, you know, I have a broad love for aviation that goes from small piston aircraft still to this day, right up through the airline world that I’m flying in with Air Canada. But I think the one that ties a bow the best on my whole career is the F4. I was an eight year old boy at an airshow in Hamilton. And I think it was Michigan International Guard that flew some F4s by in a fly past. And my parents happened to take me to an airshow and I looked up and said “I think I want to do that.” And, and I didn’t waver from that, you know my passion for maths and sciences was a good fit to that. And working hard in school obviously. And it just kept progressing along that I didn’t take my eye off that ball from eight years old and then ironically, on test pilot school with the empire in England in 1996. At the end of the course our culminating exercise is to fully assess an aircraft that we haven’t flown before. So we got assigned the F14 Super Tomcat which was in Point Magoo in California. The side hustle was that they had F4s that they used as target aircraft for live missile shots. But they were also equipped to be flown so they flew them once in a while until he actually participated in a live fire exercise and probably didn’t come back. But I actually got to fly the F4 out of the front seat with a poor, trusting soul in the back who had no stick, no nothing. No simulator, no, just here’s the book, here’s some guidance and somebody that was, you know, talking to me at various pitches of voice from behind, you know, to me to make sure that we got things going in the right way. But it was really was the ultimate, you know, bookend on a career, because that’s what got me going in my vision in the first place. And then of course, I finished Test Pilot School by flying that aircraft. 

TK: That’s amazing. 

PAUL: And I’ll put a side story to that one too, because it was so unique, in my experience. Because we’re going to talk about safety and various safety cultures. So these aircraft are obviously expendable, because they’re going to be shot down. But we’re not. So you know, there’s a certain interest that we do things right. But as we’re doing a check of the flap system, before we got out of the parking to get going flying, there was a leading edge flap that was hanging up, and it just wasn’t deploying properly. So he calls over one of the maintenance technicians that comes over with these big bolt cutters. And he cuts a triangular chunk out of the leading edge flat, and then they move the flaps they work, he goes good to go. So, you know, speaking of safety culture, you know, that wouldn’t fly, pardon the pun, anywhere else. But in that environment in that day in age and with that aircraft. That was okay.

TK: You couldn’t do that with a Fifth Gen fighter.

PAUL: No, you wouldn’t. I think the F35 boys would have a heart attack.

TK: That’s wild. Well, since we’re, we’re talking about safety culture, then let’s, let’s get cracking and and maybe we can jump into the first question with how is your experience as a fighter pilot and test pilot shaped your perspective on aviation safety.

PAUL: It’s been an evolution sort of like my career. And I was trying to find a way to frame this well, because I’ve gone from fighter aviation and now into high end commercial aviation. And they’re very, very different. And even if you do test flying or research flying in there, which I’ve also had a chance to do, every one of these types of flying has a culture and they have a mission necessity, you know, an urgency of various urgencies, you know. If you’re in the fighter world, not unlike cutting a chunk out of your flap and an F4. But if you’re in the fighter world, there is a known portion of this profession, that is we might get shot down, or actually my role very much could be to go shoot somebody else down in an aircraft. So the safety piece is morphed just a little bit because of the risks of the mission that you’re doing in war, whether you get shot down by a surface to air missile, or by some other aircraft or the the risks that you take on. So the context of the mission that you’re doing, really frames the safety culture, and you couldn’t possibly, you know, overlay an airline safety culture on a fighter aviation mission, because it’s just so different. And the risks are inherently so much higher, doesn’t make safety less important. But it just makes how you apply it different. And that’s really what I learned going through. I mean, I started, you can tell by the gray hair that I started back in pencil and paper, you know, we did flight safety. Initially, it was new. This was, I mean, in the 50s. You know, I think it was 1954 or 56, where Canada in the military lost the most aircraft. In one year in the history of the peacetime Air Force. It was over 200 aircraft. That finally morphed as flight safety became something we even talked about, you know, and the culture of the Air Force changed. To the point when I started, we were doing flight safety reporting when it was happening with pencil and paper. And if you were next door on a squadron, you had no idea what I wrote down, unless I took my pencil and paper afterwards over to you and said, “Hey, have a look at this.” So it was very challenging early on, I think to do flight safety well across even one type of organization, or one community. And then luckily, we of course, came on with computers. So now we could actually put things into a database of some sort that people can search, but it was normally restricted to that computer. And eventually we linked them and it got linked to that squadron. And then we got the internet and I became, you know, broader. And we started to hear about things that happen in different communities, different air forces in different countries. So it’s been a huge evolution in flight safety.

TK: Ironically, that’s the big part of the motivation for Dicerra and healthcare is to bring this model to healthcare looking in from the outside we can see it is in terms of reporting culture. You know, it’s back in time. Many places still use pen and paper, my wife is an RN, and she’s worked in hospitals that are pen and paper reporting. So they go into a filing cabinet. Obviously, no other hospitals are ever gonna see that.

PAUL: Right.

TK: And some of the electronic systems via PDF are siloed within that hospital, and the hospital across the street can’t see them. So, I mean, aviation wasn’t always that safe. Like you said, 200 aircraft, 200 plus aircraft in one year. To now the safest industry in the world. We could probably get there in healthcare as well, by adopting a similar mentality. But to go back to what you’re saying about subcultures. So you know, for non aviators listening in, they might have thought that aviation safety is aviation safety, and it would be the same in the airlines as in the military, but obviously, you just brought up it’s not the case. But even within the military, the difference between the subculture of Fighters versus Air Mobility versus Tactical Helicopter operations. And then, within fighters, the difference perhaps between two different squadrons, it can be quite significant. So have you found in your career that there were specific cultures that changed the way individuals made decisions or approached safety?

PAUL: I think cultures are at the heart of it. Whether it’s a reporting culture, when we’re talking safety, you know, I lived through the era where people were still very reluctant to report as I think you’re probably finding in health care, because there’s a litigious environment potentially, or a fear of retribution for what you’ve written down. And that’s how it was when I started that, that things would happen, and people would hush it up, because, boy, if we admit this, we’re gonna end up losing our wings, as we called it in the military. And it had to get to the point where people were confident in the complete system, the operating inside of that the culture would allow them to report something, and it was for the betterment of everyone. And it wasn’t in order to punish them. Now, you couldn’t go out and rage around and do something completely against the rules and then hide behind the flight safety system. That’s not the idea. But it was more for, you know, stuff happens. And it’s not always what you intended. We all make mistakes. It’s how we learn from those mistakes that we advance a culture. And that reporting portion is what’s so key in advancing that if you can’t report confidently, get the information out and share it, it’s really hard for us to learn lessons and improve how we operate. And again, the mission taints that because sometimes you accept more risk, because of the mission, you can’t you can’t expect that someone going into a war zone with a fighter jet is taking on the same kind of risk as a Airbus pilot flying passengers across the Atlantic, it’s just not the same ballgame, nor should it ever be.

TK: When you talk about risk to, in test aviation, you might have to accept a mitigated high risk, or unmitigated high. Because you’re testing something for the first time and there’s only so much you can do. But you would try and make the test conditions as standardised as possible, mitigate the risks and whatever way that you possibly can. And I imagined it’s the same in the fighter environment in a combat context. It’s just there’s only so so far that you can mitigate those risks before you have to accept them in order to get the mission completed.

PAUL: Yeah, and you’re bringing up a very interesting topic overall, which is risk analysis and mitigation. And I thought about this a little bit before we talked today. And, there’s an interesting difference between flight test and the other communities. I think flight tests tend to be more forward looking. Because we were planning to test something. We get engineers to look at what we’re testing, aerodynamicists and we get all this information ahead of time before we ever dip our toe into the let’s take it flying and see how she goes. We make a build up approach, we sort of mitigate risk or to reduce risk. You know, if we’re trying to go out to a certain maximum airspeed with a new weapon on board the airplane and we don’t know how the aircraft is going to react, well, we’re not going to go out there. We’re going to plan to go out slowly, measure the response of the aircraft, maybe do multiple flights. And so it creates a very different environment now in flight tests and what it used to be. I mean, flight tests first started, wow, you know, the Exploration Program, a Chuck Yeager gang. I mean, there was some serious big kahunas going on out there with what they did, you know, the sound barrier, all these things we had no idea about. So now in test aviation, I consider it to be very forward looking. Whereas in, you know, in the fighter aviation world, it is forward looking in terms of threats, but your risk mitigations in planning a mission are surrounded by what are the threats that we’re going to encounter, you know, be it surface to air missile systems, the other air force that’s we’re working on it working against, obviously, and them trying to shoot us down on what are their defences, it’s more oriented in that direction, whereas the actual portion of flying the aircraft, and how you operate, it is somewhat taken for granted. And isn’t that much discussed in a safety context, it’s more the stuff outside of us that you talk about more.

TK: It’s expected that you know your procedures called. Following the procedures within the manufacturer’s guidelines, both for the weapon system and the aircraft itself, you’re going to be safe, and then you have all of the additional, you know, the enemy gets a vote. So you have your threat, brief, and then kind of merged the two together. I’m curious to know, if you’ve encountered at a time where the administrative side of risk management has gone too far in the other direction, and what I mean by that is, you know, you have so many layers of the cheese. And you want to mitigate risks so that the little holes don’t line up. But there comes a certain point where there’s so many layers, that adding an additional layer doesn’t really increase safety, but it does decrease efficiency.

PAUL: Yeah, I mean, absolutely, I’ve experienced that at various points in my career, some more recent, and some more in the distant past. You’re gonna always, you know, have time, against safety, against efficiency and cost, if you will, in your programs of whatever you’re trying to do. I think that’s probably a pretty common triangle to talk about. You want it fast and cheap? Well it’s not going to be safe. You want it safe and cheap? Well it’s not to be fast, you know, you can do this triangle. And it’s followed me around my career. But one time where we almost got paralyzed by that whole process, and it was a tough position to be in. But the original ejection seat that was in the tutor aircraft of the snowbirds fly, they had found a significant flaw with that, and this is going back into the early 90s. But the test aircraft that we were using to test had the exact same seat and the same parachute. So we wanted to test to help improve this seat on behalf of the snowbirds. But we had to fly a seat that was in test. And so, we had to do a lot of really good convincing of the higher headquarters staff. And I can still remember the colonel that we talked to in Winnipeg and finally convinced. It came down really to a one on one meeting, I was, you know, sat down with him and said, “Sir, you just got to trust us. Like, we can do this. It’s going to take us a year. We know how to do it, we’re gonna do it as safely as we possibly can, but just trust that we can do this.” And to his credit, you know, I don’t know that would happen today. But back then it did. You know, the headquarter staff, I think, had more power at a lower level and more responsibility, and we’re able to take it on. And we were able to succeed with that project. But that was one of those ones where you’re caught in a corner, and then you just can’t mitigate that away apart from taking on some risk, or just stop and you’re done, which is not the answer either.

TK: So that leads nicely into maybe the next question with a technology lean to it. From your perspective, how has technology evolved to contribute to improved safety measures in aviation?

PAUL: Yeah, I alluded to a little bit earlier there. There’s a number of different technologies we can talk about but one is certainly the enabling of information to be shared by computer and internet. I mean, the fact that you at least have the silos kind of linked between, you know, whether it’s European Aviation or fighter aviation somewhere or commercial aviation. You know, we have databases now that are out there, although often isolated, but they’re still out there at least, that if you go looking for information, you probably can find it. So the computer and the Internet has been a huge enabler, to trying to make sure that we learn from each other. You know, the first thing we want to do is not create the same mistake again and again and again, because we didn’t learn from somebody else’s misfortune. So that’s one key piece. And the other one I alluded to is just the incredible capabilities of aircraft design now, from an engineering perspective, you know, when we bring an aircraft out now, we will have flown a lot of time in a simulator before we ever get into the aircraft that was involved with the C series, which is now the A220 flight test program a little bit after the first flights happened, but we worked hard on the fly by wire flight control system, and tuning how the pilot would fly the aircraft. And it was the same in the airplane as it was in the simulator. So when you got into that airplane, you weren’t surprised, you were just validating what we thought we knew. And by and large, it was either equal or better than what we expected. And that follows through, you know, into what we’ll talk about, perhaps, later, but that’s the, you know, the benefit of simulation to safety. You know, in the airline world, you will get your type rating on an aircraft, without stepping into the actual aircraft, the first time that you fly the airplane, you’ll have a training person with you. But the reality is, there are passengers on board and you have not yet done a takeoff or landing in a real aircraft and you will with passengers on board, that’ll be the first time you do it. And it’s totally safe. The simulators are designed for that. The level of equivalence between the simulator and the aircraft is so high, that it’s transparent. The fact that the cockpit door is closed, there’s somebody back there or not somebody back there and it’s a simulator to the pilot is really transparent. So you cannot do anything but applaud the role of simulation in advancing safety.

TK: Yeah we’re definitely going to circle back and pull more of the thread of the simulation topic. I’ve heard it said many times that aviation is as safe as it is now because of the technological advances. But there is a component of that that rests upon the reporting culture as well, because the technology doesn’t develop in a vacuum, it has to be informed by reports from the hangar floor from the text from the flight deck and from everywhere else. And usually those developments have come from an incident there, you know, the procedures are written in one. And, you know, we probably all know now that the instances of mechanical failure in aviation are increasingly small, right? It used to be a significant chunk of the pie with pilot error, making up a small sliver, but now as the technological side engineering side has become safer and safer, the pilot error portion is comparatively much larger and its contribution to accidents. 

PAUL: Absolutely.

TK: So how important then, is effective reporting culture when it’s the human element. Now, that comprises the majority of adverse incidents, whether it’s a crash or just an incident?


PAUL: Well, I think that’s where it becomes super important. And that’s where you come back to your culture of your organisation. Because what we’re doing by reporting is pointing our fingers at ourselves, you know, if the human in the loop is the weakest link, which I think you’re right, in the majority of the aviation constructs that we fly in now, that is the case, the human is the weakest link. So if we have a good strong reporting culture, that means that human had to be willing to say, “Hey, this is on me, I made a mistake. This is what happened. This is how this mistake came about.” And it’s rarely a singular thing. Right? If you look at aviation accidents, it is reasons model, right? It’s the Swiss cheese, with the holes lining up of multiple elements that came together at the wrong time and the wrong way to cause a serious incident or accident. But underlying that is that ability to report, to not fear retribution for reporting and to be willing in your culture, to point your finger at yourself and say, “Hey, this is on me. We screwed this up. And this is how we screwed it up. And this is what happened.” And then it allows the system to dig deeper into it because, you know, most often unaware to the pilot, there’s probably other layers there that we don’t even know because we’re only one layer. And that’s where you know, that investigative portion of the reporting goes on. And you can really dismantle how that incident or accident happened. And then we can populate the database and hopefully other people will learn from it.

TK: What advice would you give aspiring pilots regarding cultivating the right mentality for peak performance? And it actually goes beyond pilots because what you’re describing when you have to feel comfortable enough coming forward to share something that didn’t go well. And a portion that might be your fault. Or it could be the result of many, many conditions that have led to that, that point. That mentality and the humility to come forward and share it with a group of people transcends just aviation and healthcare. So great sports people, many, many other industries will benefit from having people at their best confess to things that didn’t go well so that it can be the rising tide that lifts all ships. So what advice would you give to people for habits they can slowly build over time to improve their performance?

PAUL: I think there’s a few key ones that hold true in aviation or anywhere else. And that is never stop learning. You know, never feel like you’ve arrived and you’re done. And you’re the woman or the man, you know, you’re not, nobody is. If you can always push yourself to learn more, to improve yourself at what you’re doing. To not accept that last mission as being the best one you’re ever going to fly. To this day, when I go even on the simplest of flights, being with Air Canada or elsewhere, there’s always something that didn’t go the way I wanted, be it a verbal communication that wasn’t quite correct. Or, you know, a handling of the aircraft or whatever, you know, be critical of yourself, and always strive to improve. And within that, keep learning. You know, don’t sit idle ever on your laurels.

TK: Never miss an opportunity to embarrass yourself. 

PAUL: Those come naturally.

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Part 2 – Paul Kissmann Discusses Safety Culture In The World Of High Performance Aviation

Paul Kissmann, Dicerra's Lead Aviation Advisor, is a former fighter pilot, Commanding Officer, Chief Test Pilot for both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the National Research Council, Chief Pilot for Vintage Wings Canada and a wide-body airline pilot for Air Canada. He speaks about lessons learned from high performance cultures within different aviation organizations and their different approaches to safety and human performance.

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Part 2 – Paul Kissmann Discusses Safety Culture In The World Of High Performance Aviation

Paul Kissmann, Dicerra's Lead Aviation Advisor, is a former fighter pilot, Commanding Officer, Chief Test Pilot for both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the National Research Council, Chief Pilot for...

Part 2 - Paul Kissmann Discusses Safety Culture In The World Of High Performance Aviation

TK: So when we’re talking about human performance, we could almost subdivide it. And do you have a opinion as to the importance of personality? As compared with, say, a skill or an aptitude when it comes to peak performance in aviation?

PAUL: Wow, great question. You know, even to this day, we screen for pilots for the military, or for an airline or whatever, or be it for an astronaut in the Canadian Space Agency, they screen highly now for personality and your personality and your adaptation to the culture. And all these things are what will allow you to excel within that environment. If you’re not willing to keep working hard to keep learning, to keep your humility to a reasonable extent, in the environment that you’re in, it’s tough to really get better. It really is.

TK: And it just occurred to me while you’re talking, we’re talking about the effect of having too many layers that don’t really increase safety, but start to decrease efficiency. That reminded me of anecdote from a friend who was in the first ROTO of a Middle East deployment of the Hornet. Six pack of Hornets launched without actually having formal orders and got them airborne, along with the tanker packages are heading across the ocean. They found that they were extremely flexible when they first arrived. And, you know, able to employ effectively. Run a significant number of sorties with a very, very small team of highly, highly motivated people. But then over time, as the ROTO grew, the the wedge behind the front end grew and grew and grew and became a bit of a self licking ice cream and 

PAUL: The bureaucracy.

TK: It became less effective, less efficient, harder to get things done, despite the fact that with all of the additional personnel and resources, he should have been easier. I just wonder if you have other examples of that, in aviation, throughout your career, whether it’s in the military side or on the civi side? And what are the what are the markers where you see it start to happen, and you can steer the course, steer the ship away from it before it gets here?

PAUL: Well, I’m trying very hard not to say fixed wing search and rescue in the military. Which is the program I was involved in. I’ll pause the sentence there and say, whenever I have been involved in a highly successful test program, flying program, something very challenging. It has been because the authority, and the ability to get the result has been moved down to the lowest possible level. 

TK: Power to the edges. 

PAUL: You bet power to the edges, you really have to empower your people that are at the cold face that are getting the job done. The more that power gets vacuumed up into higher levels of management, or leadership or whatever you want to call it, depending on where you are. The more paralyzing it is to success. There is nothing gained by some general or some colonel poking way down into the weeds trying to control flight test program or a operational implementation program. Because they just aren’t close enough to the problem. And the more you can trust your expert center at the coalface that are doing the job. You’ll have way more success. It sort of comes back to that discussion earlier about the ejection seat. You know, that was a colonel that was a rare bird heard and again, the pun but and he and I just looked at each other mano a mano, and I said, boss, trust us, we can do this. And he did. And it wasn’t me. It was my team. You know, I had some really talented folks that are still working in the same field today. But you have to allow that to happen if you vacuum this up and create this bureaucracy behind the coalface, the game. It’s really just CYA, right? They’re covering their asses. They want control because they’re fearful of a negative outcome that might end up looking like it was their responsibility. But the reality is, when you’re at that level, you can’t control that many things. It’s impossible to have control over all the programs, all the fleets, all the aircraft, all the pilots, you’d be working 5000 hours a day to try and do that. So the more that you can put the right people in the right place and the right job and empower them to do it and give them the authority, that’s success.

TK: Actually kind of reminds me and it’s not an aviation anecdote, but the Hurricane Katrina response in New Orleans, where the government wanted to retain centralized control and ultimately slowed them down to a fault. Whereas I think it was Walmart, who was on the ground pushing power to the edges, and was briefing their stores to say, do whatever you can do what’s right, communicate with us as best you can make decisions on the ground. And I think it was Walmart that got water and, and their pharmacy supplies out the fastest. 

PAUL: You bet. 

TK: Really irrelevant. But the, it also reminds me a little bit of, if you’re a junior captain, in the Air Force, the level of responsibility that you have, as an aircraft commander of whatever it is that you’re flying, whether it’s single pilot high performance, you’re on the road in the US with 2, 3, 4 jets, or whether you’re on an air mobility platform, and you’re you’re the AC. People don’t realize, but you’re also the dispatcher, and you’re the flight planner, and when the weather is poor, and you’re supposed to go to the airport X, you’re replanning to airport Y and it is generally the faith entrusted that all of the training to that point, you can make the right decision and nobody’s going to jump down into your. You’re the mayor of cockpit city, you’re going to make the right choice, you’re gonna get to wherever you need to get to and make it safe. And occasionally, you have to call back home to get a diplomatic clearance because you’re flying over a different country and you know, get a new lift message cut from the CAOC. But in general, it always surprised me how much latitude is given to, you know a 25, a 26-year old captain flying a multimillion dollar piece of equipment? Probably to a country I’ve never been to before.

PAUL: And I think you’ll see the output of that is how well regarded our people are in their next careers. You know, in the flight test construct, you know, the most senior and talented pilots that I know from my flight test world are now you know, VP operations at Boeing, head at Cessna, head at Bombardier, and on and on. And this is in a multinational construct. These are Canadians that are out there that are leading in their fields. And I think it harkens back to exactly what you just said, which is that responsibility that were given early on. And so it does work at times for sure. I think culturally, that’s how it’s been. I don’t know that we’re there today in the Canadian Forces. I think we’ve had a pretty big setback in experience and with that, also, a power being vacuumed up the hill in the command levels. A paralysis by analysis, and oversight, that might produce a different pilot. In the next generation. We’ll see how it goes. When we talk again, hopefully in 20 years, we’ll I’m still kicking. And we’ll look at this again and see who’s out there. And how are we doing internationally leading the way? Or is there going to be an echo of this? You know current situation.

TK: Those personalities that you mentioned, the, you know, the Canadians that came up through our aviation system and are are now leaders in the industry. The Chris Hadfield’s and the Billy Flynn’s and people like yourself, would probably also look back on training and simulation, which we mentioned earlier, and say the quality of the training was was very, very good. That’s what allowed them and yourself and other aviators to be safe and to be operationally effective, where perhaps other folks without that training in the same situation would not have been safe or effective. How would you, you know, explained the importance of safety and simulation in particular mentioned Air Canada simulation, so accurate in their simulators that the first time you actually fly is with passengers. To developing a safety mindset, as well, so not just your procedural proficiency with the aircraft that you’re flying, but the the attitude that you have.

PAUL: Yeah, I mean, the attitude comes from how you grew up through the system in learning to be a pilot, and also from the culture of the organization that you’re in. We’ll flavor that for sure. Simulation, done right, I think will always increase safety because we can simulate a lot of critical events. You know, I just came through, you know, wide-body training at Air Canada onto a new platform. And the process, nose to tail was about three months. And people say: “how the heck does that take three months?” How was it possible that you took three months to go through a training, you know. And it’s funny because if I was in the test world, it would have been one week, maybe two, you would read some books, you would have gone flying. But it’s a totally different mission, and a totally different safety construct. You know, in the airline world, from a safety perspective, we have to have an organization with 1000s of pilots, I have to be able to just reach into the bucket of names and pull two names out and say you two are flying together. And the fact that we’ve never seen each other don’t know each other, we have to operate as effectively as two buddies who’ve done this for years together. So there is a an enormous reliance on standard operating procedures, what is said, who says what when, how you operate, who’s overseeing, while somebody’s pushing buttons, who’s flying when somebody’s talking. And that portion of the culture, under the standard operating procedures is what drives the safety, because they have a different challenge, right? If you’re on a squadron with 12 pilots, and you all know each other, you fly together all the time, there’s a lot of inherent flexibility that you’ll get, because you’re just familiar familiar with each other. And you can possibly have a less stringent level of standard operating procedures and more flexibility. If you’re on an airline, and you’re going to pick two names out of the hat. It’s just not that way. And so simulation allows us to learn all those SOPs and how we’re going to operate. It also allows us to simulate failures that hopefully you won’t see once in your career. You know, the one that we talked about, at at length was, you know, some kind of a critical failure over the ocean. You know, you’re we’re mostly flying two engine jet aircraft now over the ocean back in the day, it was more often four-engined aircraft. Now, there’s only a few of those left, the A380, the A340, the 747. There’s a few of those around but generally speaking, you know, certainly at Air Canada, we’re flying two-engined aircraft across the ocean, which with which brings with it certain requirements, regulatory requirements. So 


PAUL: Yes, we call ETOPS. And you have to learn how that works. You have to learn, hey, if this happens, we’re in the middle of night, it’s we’re at 40,000 feet, we’re over the dark, stormy Atlantic Ocean, and we lose an engine or we have an engine fire. What are we going to do and what order? What’s the most important thing? What’s the next most important thing, and we don’t really have an overwhelming amount of time to have a debate in the cockpit, right? I mean, the captain is still the captain, the first officer supports but you both will provide input to the to the solution that you come to, but you have to have thought about this ahead of time. And simulation is absolutely critical, and allowing us to do some of those things. In the relative safety of a, you know, you might spill your coffee in the sim, that’s about all that will ever happen. But because you’re so immersed in a very real environment, believe me, you’ll sweat in the sim. And you’ll think it’s real, you’ll forget that there’s nobody back there. So that’s what takes so long, long answer to your short question. But that’s what takes so long. That’s what builds the safety culture. And I think again, it depends on the mission, right? In the airline mission, because of how we operate, it’s a different scenario.

TK: Do you have an opinion on Air Canada’s reporting system as compared with the flight safety system, or any other flight safety reporting system with, with the other organizations you’ve flown with?

PAUL: I think they’ve they’ve come full circle to be very similar. I think as we’ve gotten along in the years of flight safety being reported, it’s become more practical, you know, we have it on a tablet, you can populate your flight safety report in flight. And when you reconnect to Wi Fi, it’ll automatically send. So you know, pilots are lazy. We don’t want to sit down after the flight and do your writing. If we can have a quiet moment at cruise when we’re not the pilot flying we have a few minutes we can start writing out their flight safety report. So part of that culture is make it easy, because pilots are lazy. You know, I say that tongue in cheek but but in reality, the easier that you can respond. Yeah, the easier you can make the reporting structure, the better off you are, the more familiar it is. So in this app driven world, we fly with iPads everywhere we go. In most of the modern aviation fields, and even in fighters, they’ve got iPads. So, you know, here we go. We got an iPad, we got an app. The culture is established in the organization for there to be no retribution for your report. And so you’ve set the table for the operator to feel absolutely confident about reporting. And I think that is the key. And I think that’s that is pan-organizational to where I’ve been in the last 20 years even, you know, I think the National Research Council was one place that I that I was ended being chief pilot that where we had to work a little bit at creating that culture there were a little bit behind in terms of understanding that there wasn’t retribution. So we had to really create that culture still there. But I’d come from other places that had it. So it was it was easier to make it happen.

TK: Do you get preventative measures pushed out? Through Air Canada channels? Do they aggregate the data or the reports that are coming in, do their own analysis, and then if you know, something meets the threshold of hey, there’s a preventative measure, we should push out, they just push it to your to your iPads, or, 

PAUL: Yeah, we get it via Chief Pilot Notes. So each fleet has a chief pilot, and they do a great job of sometimes modifying the standard operating procedures, sometimes is a change to the flight operations manual that reflects a new reality that we need to consider. There, so the information flows back and forth, for sure, that doesn’t go into a void. It’s analyzed, I mean, we even have we call gatekeepers, that monitor the flight data of all flights. And if there is an excursion of some sort in terms of configuration, or speed, or bank angle, or approach criteria, or whatever, it’s flagged automatically. It goes to the gatekeeper, they look at it. And they’ll call the crew and say, Hey, on this approach into airport X, Y, and Z at this time, we saw that this happened. Can you tell us what a little bit more of what was going on? So that’s a case where perhaps the crew was unaware, which happens, right? You get busy. And you didn’t realize that you had, you know, pushed beyond one limit or another in terms of the standard operating procedures. But it creates a short term full circle, to maybe they go hey, that, well, we didn’t report that. So let’s report that. And so if it doesn’t come to mind, of the crew, it’s another way of pushing the safety out and monitoring safety. 

TK: So yeah, that’s fascinating. I didn’t realize I had that capability. But I bet it keeps pilots flying that approach the plus and minus a couple of knots and make sure they configure exactly on time and land on the 1000 foot markers with that. Well, and deviations.

PAUL: And that’s your friend, right? You know, in modern aviation now. You know, they’re meeting every every year these international councils, be it ICAO, or be it to European EASA folks or the FAA transport and they’re trying to establish a forward looking hitlist, if you will, you know, what, what’s the most important thing to us to try and make aviation safer and when we’re talking about, you know, the bigger airplanes here, you know, over 7000, some odd kilos up into the airliner world commercial aircraft operators, and their things like topically, runway incursions. So those who follow the news will have seen in Japan, the 777 that unfortunately collided with the Coast Guard Dash airplane. That was a runway incursion, it seems I mean, they’re still analyzing the data. So I don’t want to talk out of school too far. But regardless, you ended up having an aircraft landing on the runway that is occupied by another aircraft. And they collided and very sadly, some lives were lost on board the Dash-8. But that’s one of the that’s one of the five on the hit list. Like we already know, looking forward, we’re trying to solve runway incursions because we know how deadly they can be.

TK: Deadliest crash in the world. Tenerife was.

PAUL: Tenerife. Two 747s in the fog, right. And runway excursions are the next one. Ironically, I think yesterday, United, I think it was American Airlines feeder, and it was a feeder airline in Rochester slid off of a runway in snowy conditions. So runway excursions, meaning you unintentionally leave the taxiway or the runway during a takeoff or landing or maneuvering on the airfield. We already know that this is a really important issue to solve. And so forward looking, some companies are bringing either policies in place, or technologies into place to help us reduce the likelihood things like that happening. So this is where the safety network now starts to move forward. Right? Instead of just being a rearward looking mirror. That doesn’t help us in the future. Now it’s like okay, so we know this is on our top five, what are we doing to help solve this problem? And so I am encouraged by us identifying those things, how well we do it, you know, school’s out still, we just got to keep working hard at it.

TK: Being able to push it out rather than as an operator having to draw that information or try and find it framed wherever. Does Air Canada coordinate with other airlines or with NASA through their ASRS? To try and draw out lessons learned from other?

PAUL: I don’t know, because I’m not involved in the actual safety cell of the airline. I’m more on the operator side. So what goes on behind those scenes and how they interface with other operators? I’m not sure. But I’d be, you know, I do know they attend conferences that are multi-disciplinary and multi-airline. So I’m sure there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, but I’m just not the one to ask the question.

TK: Well, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about, or I didn’t ask you a war story question. Can you think of a time in your career with any of the organizations that you flew with? Where safety culture played a role in your decision making in a challenging environment and challenging situation?

PAUL: Yeah, for better or for worse, shall we say? If you go back to Gulf War One in Iraq, I was on 433 Squadron, and we were deployed to a Red Flag exercise in Nellis. And it was on the Thursday of the week that we were there that the fighting started. And we got a call from the general and back then, Canada was there was a division at at 30 West, which is a longitude, where east of that was the European Command. And a gentleman over there was in charge of our forces, because we still had fighters in Europe back then. Because we’re going to

TK: F5s in Germany. Sorry we’re talking Gulf War.

PAUL: In the 90s, right? We’re talking the early 90s here. So we had we had F-18s teams in Europe, and they were under one commander, and everything to the west of that 30 West Line was North America and there was a different commander. So we were as 433 in Bagotville, Quebec. We were under that North American commanders command. The war starts, and they call us down on Nellis and go, boys, you’re sending six airplanes, six pilots, and we want you there on Sunday. And we are in Nellis in the middle of an exercise in the sun, and it’s Thursday. So this is where the operational imperative interfaced with safety to try and turn that corner, we had to pack up, get the airplanes, first of all back to Bagotville. Then we had to get our personal affairs somewhat in order. So including getting immunizations, getting wills drawn up. Because we were not yet as much of a wartime Air Force. I think as they are today, we weren’t as triggered and ready to go. So there, there was a lot of work behind the scenes that had to happen. We had to get a tanker organized, we had to figure out ways to get across the ocean to try and get to the theater. Of course, the big war is on, you can’t find a tanker. Right. They’re all in theater. They’re busy. So now we have to figure out how to get across the ocean with a six pack of F-18s by hopping our way across World War Two style. Right, this is back to the Bomber Command. Dragon Lancaster’s in Halifax across the ocean, or even fighters for that matter. And so what we would normally worry about like crew rest. Well, you can imagine how little sleep we got between the Thursday and the Sunday, right? We were all absolutely shattered. And when the weather in Bagotville turns into 100 and a 1/4 in driving snow and minus I don’t know how much as time to go. Well, we went. And we went to Sondestrom, Greenland first. And that’s where we got our gas.

TK: That’s a whole other set of challenges flying into Greenland. 

PAUL: A whole other set of challenges, and then out of there to go to Iceland, and that’s where we plan to overnight. Well, you know, we’re in Sondestrom. And we come out to our airplanes after a long first hop. And five of the six are refueled and one is not. And we’re wearing immersion suits and G suits and we’ve got bags and helmets and publications. And I mean, it’s an effort to get yourself strapped into the airplane. And it wasn’t until we strapped in, got our APUs on and got the radios going that we heard from one of the guys hey, I don’t have gas. So now you’re sitting there. It’s the middle of the night. You’re absolutely shattered. And no kidding. We said okay, well, the five out of the five of us that had gas said Well, I’m not going back inside. I’m going to sit here until you get gas. And I literally fell asleep in the airplane. And I woke up when the sixth guy got gas and started his airplane and the APU went on. And I heard wrrrrr. It’s like, oh, you know. So that’s where, you know, safety versus operational imperative really got trimmed, right? The operational imperatives was extremely high, perhaps not in small part due to our fighter pilot personalities and wanting to go go go go go and and make sure we help defend the Western priorities. But yeah, there are times when you you know, like that was one classic where where we really, you know, safety got shaved way down and mission got X loaded. And in retrospect, we look at it now going well, what were we thinking, you know, we should have taken more time.

TK: That’s wild. I mean, it’s non-trivial flying into Greenland in the winter at the best of times, let alone when you’re on min crew rest. It’s snowing, nighttime, and you’re in a fighter as well, which is significantly less comfortable and higher workload for the approach than flying on a RNAV arrival. 

PAUL: Yes. 

TK: That’s, that’s wild. And so and then via Iceland. Shannon?

PAUL: Yeah. Absolutely Shannon and then into Baden–Soellingen. And back in the day 4 Wing. Yeah.

TK: How long were you there for?

PAUL: Well, back to that delineation of authority that we talked about earlier between the two generals. When we got there, the general from the 4 Wing, you know, CENTAF I think it was called back then or I can’t remember the TAF but he came to us and said: “Thanks for the airplane guys have a good flight home.” And we were like: “What do you mean, thanks for the airplane. Have a good flight home.” And so then I guess the generals got into discussion, there had been a misunderstanding. So they arm wrestled, I guess. And in the end, he came back said: “Listen, you guys have a choice. You can go back home. Give us the airplanes, we’ll take him into theater.” Because we had 433 squadron was the last squadron formed. So we had the latest model of the airplane. Not that they were different. But they were just really good airplanes. They were super serviceable, pristine, low hours, and they wanted those airplanes in theater. And so they gave us a choice that you can go back home, get your affairs really sorted out and come back in three weeks to go into theater. Or you can go now. And so being team oriented as you are on a squadron. We said: “No, you know what, we’d rather come back with our whole squadron.” We’ll come back in three weeks. And those of us who know our history know that three weeks is all it took. And, and it was over unfortunately, I think for everyone that was the end of that the air campaign. And we never did go. But yeah, it was quite an interesting time.

TK: Okay. Why don’t we finish up with you explaining to the listeners and viewers what it was like as a commanding officer of a fighter squadron.

PAUL: Boy, the pleasure of my life, to be honest. I had a fantastic squad and I inherited it from Rich Foster, who’s just a super leader later to be three star general. He should have commanded the Air Force, in my opinion. And so the squadron was in great working order when I got it, which is either an opportunity or not, it depends on how you look at it. I think if you’re a commanding officer taking over a squadron, and it comes to you in pretty much perfect condition, your first thought is don’t screw it up. Right. But I got on some majors that were amongst the best people I’ve ever worked with. And, you know, back to the philosophy of pushing the authority, responsibility down to the lowest common denominator. I know I tried to do that, because that was what always ticked me off when I was in their shoes was not getting that ability that opportunity. So that’s how I tried to leave the squadron. But let’s be honest, when you have these super duper folks that are working with you on a squadron, that’s what they’re doing. They’re working with you. Sure, in the military, there’s a gradient and you’re the boss at the end of the day. I tried to just make sure that meant that I was a shit shield, and that they could do their job. And so I was blessed with just a wonderful, wonderful crew. And so the experience front to back, the technicians that we had, the maintenance organization, intel, supply, they were just all fabulous. And all I all I tried to do was to make sure that we enabled folks to do their job the way they felt was the best way to do it as long as it fell within our objectives. At the end of the day when we left, the squadron unfortunately got closed. Tt was part of a restructuring of the Air Force trying to find some positions. But in that last year, we had the highest flying rate of a fighter squadron in the Canadian Forces out of the five squadrons. We had the highest service ability rate, and those don’t go together, right? Necessarily, like normally when you fly hard, you can’t. 

TK: You break things.

PAUL: You break things, and they don’t work work well. But you know, I just had this inherent belief in the people, and rightly so they were fantastic at what they were doing. And I can still remember, you know, it’s certainly, it’s funny how the small snippet of stories that stayed with you over the years, but we had been blessed, you know, you go and do a morning briefing with the maintenance staff and the pilots every morning before you start your day, called the ops briefing. And during that, they’ll inform the commanding officer and his staff, you know, what the status is of the squadron? How many airplanes do we have, the scheduler will say, here’s what our plan is, for the day, we’re going to fly this many airplanes on one or two waves of launches. And this is what we’re trying to achieve. And that’s sort of set out in a weekly and a monthly objective. And we’d always had, what we needed to do it. Maintenance always provided the airplanes. When we came in this one Monday morning, and the maintenance officer had the sheepish look on his face. And he comes up he goes, you know, listen, Boss, we’ve only got two airplanes serviceable. And, you know, we just had a couple things go wrong, blah, blah, blah, some inspections came in, or whatever it was, right. But this hadn’t happened in two years. And he just goes, listen, we can give you two, we can do a two-turn-one. So he fly two in the morning, fly one in the afternoon, and, and my scheduler is pushing, Oh, I gotta get these missions done cause I want to upgrade this guy. And I want to do this. And I kind of just looked at at my squadron maintenance officer and said: “Listen, how long do you need to get us eight airplanes?” And, you know, he came back. And I should remember the number of days, I think it was two or three days. He said, boss, I need like a couple of couple or three days, I just looked at my training officer said, Alright, put on some ground school were given the maintenance all the airplanes and looked at him and says you have one job is to get us get us back on the pile. And that was, you know, the there was grumbling in the pilot community because they all love to fly right there. You know, your leashing the dogs and they’re not happy. But, you know, it was one of those examples of trusting your maintenance organization that they’re giving you the best they can. And that if you give an opportunity to recover from an unusual situation that they will and that really defined how we operated it was really enabling the people to excel and and I had great people. So.

TK: I like a happy ending. Paul. Right on. Let’s wrap up there, and let me express my infinite gratitude for your time and for coming on board with Dicerra. I can’t wait for the next conversation in there. There will be another one. We’ll have you back on the podcast again.

PAUL: Well, I’m looking forward to pushing safety to a new level, you know, and, and finding a way for us to even evolve further in the aviation field, even though we know the medical field needs a lot of help here. But even in the aviation field, like I said, keep learning, keep getting trying to get better and that’s what we hopefully will do. 

TK: Excellent. Cheers Paul. 

PAUL: Well, thanks again. 

TK: Thanks.

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