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McCarthy: Editorial

If helicopters are either maligned or praised in the US or elsewhere in the world does it matter?

In late September, an influential group of manufacturers, regulators and operators met for four days in Montreal at the International Helicopter Safety Symposium to tackle this very question.


Ed Newton, vice-chairman of the HAI, tells the story this way: Last
summer he participated in a job fair in Garden City, NY. At the end of
the fair, Ed says, they held a draw for a free helicopter ride. The
draw was made and the lucky winner was announced. Great promotion,
excited young student, everybody’s happy – right? Wrong. The parents of
the winner stepped in and announced that their kid was not going up in
a helicopter; “they’re too dangerous,” they said.

Okay,
so people are entitled to their opinions. Let’s draw again. Guess what,
says Ed, same thing. “My kid’s not going up in a helicopter, it’s too
dangerous.” It took eight draws until someone would accept the prize.
Unsettling scenario to be sure, but it gets worse.

The next
week, two helicopters crash into the East River in Manhattan within
four days of each other and now, says Ed, “We can’t even give those
helicopter rides away.”

Three months later and a very different
scenario. Thousands of stranded hurricane victims are clamouring to get
on board helicopters in New Orleans. Helicopters and their pilots prove
themselves time and time again over a two-week period as the most
effective vehicle in S&R, EMS, transport and numerous other
critical missions. It’s all done with barely a bent skid. At the peak
of the operation, there were 172 aircraft operating within a
10-square-mile area over the city, yet the helicopter pilots who flew
those missions so effectively received only passing credit in the
mainstream media.

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Is there a double standard at play here?
Helicopter goes down, they’re just too dangerous. Helicopters safely
save thousands of lives – yeah, okay, no big deal. This is hardly
acceptable, but what to do? Should the industry be focused on improving
its image?

Does any of this even impact Canada? After all, the
Canadian helicopter safety record is quite impressive vis-à-vis
worldwide statistics. Is that enough? If helicopters are either
maligned or praised in the US or elsewhere in the world does it matter?

In
late September, an influential group of manufacturers, regulators and
operators met for four days in Montreal at the International Helicopter
Safety Symposium to tackle this very question.

The purpose of
the symposium was, as AHS executive director Rhett Flater put it, “to
begin a process.” A process that is inclusive; that encourages and
needs active participation from all sectors of the helicopter industry
worldwide. The stated visionary goal of the symposium is to decrease
worldwide helicopter accident rates by 80% over the next ten years.

The
basic tenet that emerged from the presentations, seminars and workshops
is that “the helicopter business is the safety business.” Safety is an
economic necessity for both the individual operator and for the entire
industry.

The symposium heralds the beginning of an initiative
that will benefit everyone. The proceedings of the symposium will be
released sometime in October and HELICOPTERS magazine will be providing
full coverage beginning in 2006.


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