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Celebrate Diversity Month Spotlight: Captain Arinze Odira Onyiliofor

April 23, 2019

April is Celebrate Diversity Month, and Bristow is celebrating by shining a spotlight on our diverse team members whose unique cultures, backgrounds and experiences are woven into Bristow’s rich tapestry. This spotlight features a piece written by Captain Arinze Odira Onyiliofor from Nigeria about the unique experiences he gained while flying in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, and how he is passing his wisdom on to the next generation of pilots as they begin their career in the same area.

Departing from the Nigerian Air Force Port Harcourt in dust haze during the Harmattan season (which is characterized by the dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind) and arriving to a heavy downpour of rain at the same airfield was all I needed to illustrate an important point to the new co-pilot undergoing line training. The inconsistent weather and ever-changing work demand in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria require flexibility.

From the beautiful creeks of the Niger Delta adorned with an extensive coastline, the clear blue skies after a cloudburst, to being in a situation where more than 15 aircraft are within a space of 20 nautical miles radius of each other and no radar control – pure airmanship and a high level of situational awareness are required in this environment. Flying in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria is both intriguing and demanding.

Operating out of the Nigerian Air Force Base Port Harcourt, which happens to be the busiest of all the Bristow bases in Africa, exposes the crew to a lot of interpersonal/human management. Such flexibility only comes with top-notch crew resource management (CRM) skills. Both the technical and non-technical skills a pilot needs to operate an aircraft safely, efficiently and effectively are being tested and put into daily use. The ever-changing flight program from our clients requires flexibility and proactivity from the crew in order to complete the scheduled flights for the day. It is quite clear that operating in such place requires very competent crew members who are ready to adjust to any changes in client requirement and flight condition.

My first-hand experience was during my early days as a young first officer, trying to get comfortable with the aircraft. I still remember the words of Captain Mike Hoong when he told me that flying in the Niger Delta would make me a complete pilot. I thought he was talking about the technical skills required to fly the Sikorsky S76C++ helicopter, until we were tasked to go on a medical evacuation at 4:30p.m. to a location 40 minutes away from Port Harcourt. With the typical Port Harcourt thunderstorm developing about 15 miles south of the airfield, it was obvious that the rain would be over the airport in less than two hours.

This meant we had less than one hour and 50 minutes to plan the flight, get the aircraft ready, head out to the rig, pick the sick passenger and return to the base before sunset. In this case, the imminent storm added to the urgency of the mission.

To successfully complete our mission, we needed to have a seamless coordination between the ground crew, engineers and refuelers. The aircraft needed to be positioned in the correct spot for departure. We coordinated the deck crew to ensure a safe and quick turnaround on the rig.

Upon landing at the Nigerian Air Force base at 6:20p.m., the heavens opened up and the rain was so heavy we had to be towed into the hangar before disembarking the passengers. The look on the face of my captain said it all.

A year later, as I was sitting in an MBA class, the course work was on performance management. I recalled that day and realized there was no better example of a seamless performance management process than the miracle we pulled off that day of the medical evacuation flight. The words of Captain Mike Hoong echoed in my head in that class, “Flying in the Niger Delta region will make you a complete pilot.”

Today as I debriefed my co-pilot after the flight that we departed in a dusty Harmattan weather and landed with heavy rain in the vicinity of the airfield, the first thing I said to him was, “Flying in the Niger Delta region will make you a complete pilot.”

Captain Arinze Odira Onyiliofor
Line Training Captain/CRMI