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Can You Hear Me Now?

by Bill Poerstel, Chief Operating Officer

40 years ago, when I entered the aviation industry in 1978, hearing safety was important but certainly not practiced at the level it needed to be. Ear plugs and ear muffs were provided and the need for hearing protection was taught in basic safety classes, but it was not strictly enforced.

In work and in life, many of us have the attitude of “It will never happen to me.” Growing up, the thought of having to wear hearing aids was the farthest thing from my mind. Well, here we are in 2017 and at the age of 57 I have hearing aids for both ears. But how did this happen? As it was for me, hearing loss is typically a gradual process.

As I look back, there are multiple contributing factors. When I was 15 years old on the Fourth of July, a friend and I were walking around lighting fire crackers. My friend, while standing to my left, lit one but when he went to throw it, it blew up in his hand right next to my ear. Fortunately for him, his hand was not badly damaged. Unfortunately for me, the event contributed to the hearing loss in my left ear. Then of course as a child of the ‘60s and ’70s, I loved buying the best headphones I could afford (Sennheiser) and playing music far too loud. I can hear my Mom and Dad now, “Billy, turn that music down!” If only I had listened. (No pun intended.)

When I entered the aviation industry, my first job was on the flight line at General Dynamics. We were rapidly producing F-16 aircraft. The P&W F100 engine is a wonderful, powerful, and loud powerplant. My first airline job was at United Airlines. We were flying the original generation 737’s and 727’s with JT-8 engines; wonderfully loud aircraft. It’s not that I didn’t use hearing protection when it was obviously needed. It was walking to and from the parking lot or in and out of the gate house at the terminal when I would disregard the protection of my hearing. Have you ever been around an aircraft and stuck your fingers in your ears because of the noise? Unfortunately, that’s not sufficient enough protection.

Four decades later, our industry has increased safety in all areas including being vigilant about hearing protection. If you’ve ever watched UPS on the ramp, you’ll see they always wear hearing protection. It’s part of their culture. Unfortunately, Ameriflight has not had the same commitment to hearing safety. This is why we dedicated the month of November to Hearing Protection Awareness. We worked with Matt Payne, our Director of Safety, and Craig Stanton, our Safety Manager, to get ear plug dispensers as well as informational posters on hearing safety up at each base.

Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to protect your own hearing. The company and our management team need to provide the equipment and then hold you accountable for using it. I don’t want you to end up where I am. Even with the best hearing aids on the market, I still struggle with word recognition. It hurts when I don’t understand what my grandchildren are trying to tell me. Once your hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired. Please protect it.