Sarah Allen always saw herself in a job working high above ground or sea. “And once I started training as a helicopter pilot, my aim was always to work for a company called Australian Helicopters (now Babcock) and become a rescue pilot,” she says. “They seemed to be a highly professional company and were only getting stronger within the industry.”
Before long, she was a pilot for Babcock client, the Seven Network, based in Adelaide and flying media crews across South Australia to breaking news stories. “My first day, I actually received a 7am phone call from the network, before even arriving at work, to book a job to film a breaking news story in the north of the State – nothing like hitting the ground running,” she says.
“The company always had a fantastic safety culture, especially from the view of a pilot working in general aviation from a long period of time prior to starting, but the emphasis on a positive safety culture and constant improvement is fantastic to be a part of.”
As Sarah predicted, the business grew stronger as parent company, Babcock, expanded its footprint – through new contracts and merging with other company subsidiaries – to become a large Australasian business servicing clients operating onshore and offshore. “The biggest change I have seen from the ground level as we’ve grown, has been an increase in the accountability and safety culture,” Sarah says.
“The company always had a fantastic safety culture, especially from the view of a pilot working in general aviation from a long period of time prior to starting, but the emphasis on a positive safety culture and constant improvement is fantastic to be a part of.” Sarah is based on Horn Island in Far North Queensland. “Horn Island is an incredibly unique location. Despite being remote, the community has been there for a very long time and the heart of the Torres Strait, Thursday Island, is only a 20-minute ferry ride away,” she says.
A typical day begins two hours before flight time. “As a pilot, my job is to prepare the aircraft by conducting a preflight, checking all the paperwork and refuelling,” she says.
“I will then conduct a full check of the forecast weather and check for potential hazards along a flight route, or at a location, that could affect the safety of the flight in our area of operation.”
She also reviews the mission flight plan and submits a flight plan before sitting down with the crew for a pre-flight briefing. “Once all our preflight tasks have been completed, we then aim to be airborne at the prescribed time,” she says.
“Our flight sorties vary in time, but can be anywhere between two and six hours of flight time, split up between refuels at remote locations as required.”
On returning to base, Sarah and her colleagues must complete post-flight tasks including washing, cleaning and refuelling the helicopter, conducting any post flight maintenance tasks, in coordination with the engineers, and the post-flight paperwork.”
The pilots review the schedule for the next day and prepare, as required. After a ten-hour day, they return to their accommodation to rest. Sarah likes being part of a small, professional team. “At the end of each mission we conduct a crew debrief where we discuss the flight to ensure we can learn and improve,” she says.
The team’s missions are quite specific and, as a result, so are the performance measures.
“Every day I am looking at conducting our flights as efficiently, safely and cost effectively as possible,” she says. “This may be from something as simple as ensuring that we have sufficient fuel and alternate flight plan options in bad weather, or providing the client with flight plan alternatives when the prescribed mission may not be able to be achieved.”