Safety & Training
Editorial: A Safe Vision
Enhancing safety standards in the global helicopter industry is a process that is constantly evolving, as individual operators, OEMS and regulators strive to introduce new technologies and procedures to help prevent accidents and incidences throughout all levels of the business.
By Matt Nicholls
New data introduced by the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) in early March confirms that this collective commitment to a new safety paradigm is paying off. In most parts of the world, safety standards are on the rise, while accidents are on decline. The report also suggests global operators are actively embracing new strategies to redefine personal safety commitments.
“We have collected data from more than 50 countries and the total number of accidents are down,” Tony Molinaro, a public affairs officer with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and communications consultant for the IHST said. “And while fatal accidents are down, we wish it could be a little more.”
North American numbers reveal the accident rate in the U.S. dropped from 121 in 2015 to 106 in 2016, with 17 fatal accidents in both years. In Canada, the total number of accidents dropped from 31 to 27 over the same time period, with three fatal accidents in 2015 and two in 2016.
European accident numbers across 32 countries showed a stark improvement, dropping from 84 accidents in 2015 with 17 fatal accidents to 52 accidents in 2016 with 12 fatal accidents. This is better than 50 per cent improvement over numbers from 2013, when there were 103 accidents, with 25 fatal accidents.
Not all countries are showing improving accident rates, however. Brazil, and the countries that form the Commonwealth of Independent States, including Russia, are showing increases.
“This doesn’t take into account flying rates, which certainly has an effect on the data. Some countries just are not flying as much,” Molinaro said. “But the numbers do show pronounced decreases in the U.S., Europe and Mexico and we are back on track in Canada.”
Having analyzed more than 1,000 accidents, the IHST’s global regional teams have concluded that the implementation of the following key systems have helped reduce accident rates:
- Safety Management Systems (SMS)
- A structured program for initial and recurrent training
- Health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS)
- Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) programs, an area where Canadian companies continue to take the lead
- Structured programs to fully comply with a manufacturers’ recommended maintenance practices
The IHST’s data also identified specific “occurrence” breakdowns. Most accidents are caused by: in-flight loss of control; unintended flight into Instrumental Meteorological Conditions (IMC); and low altitude operations. The U.S. Helicopter Safety Team is developing safety recommendations aimed at mitigating fatal accidents in these key areas. Two have been completed – loss of control and IMC. After everything is scored, likely this spring, safety enhancements will be developed.
“It’s more of an analytic point of view to determine the cause and effect of an accident,” Molinari said. “We know the numbers are going down, but we want to find out if the actions operators are taking is actually causing the accidents to go down – it wasn’t just coincidence or luck. We need to do a better job of applying metrics after the fact to understand the data.”
The IHST is also implementing outreach programs to help industry identify areas where the largest number of fatalities occur, including: personal/private sector; commercial helicopter operations; agricultural; and air ambulance. A number of themes surfaced in the report that revealed the root of accidents. Key reasons include: issues with performance planning; weight and balance concerns; pilot instrument proficiency; need for weather reporting improvements; and fatigue management.
“There is an expanded commitment to safety in the helicopter community,” Molinari said. “We’re also seeing a much stronger relationship between governments and industry to develop regulations that work. It is a struggle at times, but the relationship between industry and government is vital to reducing accidents and discussing safety responsibilities together.”
The IHST’s continued work in helping to redefine the global helicopter safety paradigm is not only admirable, but it is essential to the continued growth of this dynamic industry.