Getting to know Polish HEMS pilot Piotr Sochaki

Posted by Michael Latimer on

Polish HEMS Helicopter Pilot

What was the interview process like?

It starts way before you sign the contract. First, there was a phone call which I had made to the person responsible for hiring (I got the number from my friend who was already working at my hems operator). Later there was a meeting with him - mostly to agree on the starting date (it took place around 5 months before I signed the contract), followed later by meeting with psychologist and in the mean time my flying back ground was checked ( in Poland, there is around 250 - 300 CPL(H) and around 100 of them works for Polish HEMS operator). If all the background checking comes back positive and you are cleared by psychologist you are hired on a 3 year employment contract.


Did you always want to fly hems or just sort of fell into it?

I always wanted to try a lot of different operations within the helicopter industry. For example, offshore operations but HEMS opportunity happened earlier so I took it and do not regret my decision. However, I am not quite sure if it will be my last helicopter gig.


Whats the shift patterns and time on and time off like?

We have 2 basic patterns, 4 days on duty with 6-8 days off, 2 days and 2 nights with 6-8 days off. Sometimes it varies but you get your schedule on the 25th of preceding month. You have 26 days off that you have scheduled in December for next year. While on duty you have accommodation provided at the base. 


Do you consider the flying dangerous? Or is it safer than other flying you have done?

I consider it safer than my previous job. Before I was patrolling power lines in an MD500. The helicopter is great for that work but the work itself is challenging and dangerous 40-60kts over the power line below 150ft AGL and my company was also authorized to do such inspections in hostile environments. How HEMS is challenging too but it feels better especially that we fly EC135 which was designed for that role. 

Approval to fly with very low weather minimums is making every flight demanding but there are no hard feelings when you turn back to base because of the weather. Our operator has strong attitude towards zero accident policy and our priority is to keep the crews alive even if it means turning back without providing help. Some degree of hazard can be finding a place to land at sites which are unknown but that was also part of my last job so I see no difference.


What cool features do you like about the aircraft you fly?

I like to feel safe flying, so with a multi-engine aircraft and SPIFR certified gives me that safe feeling. Our helicopters are quite new - the whole fleet is about 10 years old - I used to fly helicopters that we're older than me.


What makes this helicopter so good for hems? Or if not, why?

Well, there is always a discussion about which one is best for HEMS. I don’t think that there is a best helicopter. There is always a trade off. EC135 that we fly is designed for HEMS but any multi-engine SPIFR certified aircraft can be suited for HEMS work. With AW109 the trade off is the cabin size. With EC135 it's the cruise speed. With Bell is something else.

In my opinion the best helicopter type should be chosen based on the needs of the operator. We try to provide such a wide base network that the whole population of Poland will be within 35NM of the closest HEMS base.

 Polish HEMS helicopter pilot

What's the most interesting day you've had?

Since I started flying HEMS not so long ago, my days we're quiet boring, but I'm always amazed at how lucky some people are that we try to help. One guy had a head on collision with a semi truck which resulted in scratches. Another time, 5 roll overs and they ended up with a broken finger. That stuff amazes me.


How does it compare to previous jobs you've had and is it your favourite job?

As mentioned before I did quite a unique job of power line patrol. HEMS feels safer thus better for me. When I started my last job I was single and didn’t have kids. But now everything has changed and my definition of the best job has changed. Previous job was a lot of traveling with a lot of flying. Now it is much less traveling and I get to spend more time with family. Back then I could do low level flying even with some almost aerobatic maneuvers and now it is straight A to B flying. However, that is what I need in my life at this time.


If you didn't fly hems, what helicopter job would you like to fly?

I would like to try offshore and offshore HHO. It would be quite a challenging job. I already tried power line patrol and power line stringing.


Any advice you'd give to aspiring hems pilots to get a job?

That there isn’t any one good way to get to hems. Some might say that army is good way, I would say that SPO-HR work is also good. In my opinion any way is good because it's not about the way you take but how you personally fit to the job.

HEMS is not for everybody but I encourage everyone to try HEMS as it's quite a demanding job, but at the same time very rewarding and being able to help other people is very satisfying in this job.

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