James Wakulchyk has been a pilot since he went through the Air Cadets aviation scholarship program at the age of 17. “That was 1991 – you do the math,” he jokes. “I’d known I wanted to be a pilot since I was about six, and I have always loved it.”

These days, James flies with North Cariboo Air (NCA), a private air charter company, and he spends much of his time flying personnel in and out of Alberta’s oil patch.

oil patch pilot

Calgary, Alta.–6/11/2015–Pilot James Wakulchyk in the North Cariboo Air hangar with a Dash-8 airplane. digital photo by Larry MacDougal

We spoke with James about his job, and its safety implications. But first, we wanted to know why flying in and out of the oil patch is such a popular way to go.

Why charter flights are used to transport oil workers

If there’s one thing you can say about staffing in Alberta’s oil patch, it’s that it’s fluid. There is a constant wave of people coming and going – as crews take off for a break, and fresh crews arrive, or as contractors, specialists and company executives head in, complete their task and head out again.

That would represent a lot of road traffic, but oil companies and their service providers have discovered that flying people in and out can provide a more convenient and safer mode of transport.

The decision to fly personnel relates to safety and efficiency. In fact, time and convenience is safety. It is statistically proven that flying is far safer than driving, but companies also recognize that when people are flown to work, there are safety benefits. They arrive stress-free, refreshed and ready to work.

But James isn’t always in the air. Much of his time is spent on the ground fulfilling his role as quality assurance manager for flight operations. He conducts audits and reviews of every aspect of the company’s flight operations including manuals, training, trip reports and so on. He also manages the flight data monitoring system.

Safety management systems in the air

Anyone operating in the oil and gas industry is all too familiar with the need for a safety management system (SMS), and NCA is no exception. Their quality assurance and flight data are fed into the SMS to ensure that all aircraft are flown to standard operating procedures, and to help identify and mitigate potential hazards. “It’s a bit like watching a flight simulator game, but with far more actual parameters about the aircraft being presented and monitored,” said James.

Charter flight safety

When it comes to travelling as a passenger on a private charter flight, you’ll find that the safety protocols are much the same as a commercial flight. In fact, companies like NCA are governed by Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) and must follow exactly the same regulations as any airline.

If driving is your preferred method of travel, check out these stats to help you arrive safely, and learn how to keep your workers safe on the road. Either way, travel safely!