Personal Side of Statistics

Taking a Closer Look at the Role Helicopter Pilots Play
Rick Adams
October 18, 2016
By Rick Adams
The Super Puma crash off the Norwegian coast in late April that killed 13 people is a sobering reminder that statistics seem to fade into irrelevance when the victim of an accident is your spouse, your parent, your friend.


More than 18,000 people have petitioned the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority to remove the H225 aircraft from service (formerly known as the EC225), including Aberdeen, Scotland resident Audrey Wood, mother of oil worker Stuart Wood, who died seven years ago after a gearbox failure.

We see the other side, beyond the statistics, in crisis situations such as Fort McMurray where residents like Peter Fortna and Jamie London’s wife and children were rescued from the inferno by samaritans from Phoenix Heli-Flight and Lakeshore Helicopters. Members of those operators also lost property and belongs in the fire, and were emotionally altered by the harrowing events.

Even by mentioning the name of Wood, I have relegated the 15 others who died with him to the realm of impersonal statistics, same as the dozens of others heli-evacuated like Fortna and London’s family and the two CHC pilots in the Norway tragedy.

Statistics do have value, of course, in monitoring trends. This is the final year of the International Helicopter Safety Team’s (IHST) original goal of reducing civil rotary accidents by 80 per cent compared with a 2005 baseline. The goal was perhaps unrealistically ambitious, though significant gains were apparently made. The average number of worldwide accidents dropped from 570 for the period 1995-2005 (and trending upward) to 515 per year from 2006 through 2012 (and trending downward).

The IHST and affiliated groups such as the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) are now re-focusing their “the path to zero” attention on fatal accidents as well as improved crash survivability measures. The new USHST objective is a 20 per cent reduction in the fatal accident rate from the previous five-year average (0.73 accidents per 100,000 flight hours), or an end of 2019 target rate of 0.62. In shorthand, “20 by 2020.”

Nick Mayhew, commercial programs manager and EASA Head of Training at the Bristow Academy in Florida, noted, “This doesn’t mean that we accept that as the final mean.”

Speaking at the Helicopter Aviation Training Symposium (HATS) earlier this year, part of the annual WATS training conference in Orlando, Mayhew suggested that the abstract statistical concept of “zero accidents” should really be personalized by pilots and other helicopter operations personnel. “Is ‘zero accidents’ an achievable goal?” he asked.

For 99.74 per cent of U.S. pilots, zero accidents is already reality. Between March 2015 and February 2016, there were 115 accidents. That means 41,483 of 41,598 pilots in the States did not have an accident. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Mayhew urged pilots to “make it personal. Don’t rely on safety personnel to carry the safety banner.”

The former U.K. Royal Navy commander described the pillars of a “personal safety management system”:
  • Safety Policy – My core value. It’s my responsibility. Don’t get hurt or hurt others.
  • Safety Risk Management – I don’t cut corners or take unnecessary risks. I use a checklist.
  • Safety Assurance – I always try to learn from my and others’ mistakes.
  • Safety Promotion – I always do the safe thing even when I know no one is watching. I always stay positive and tell everybody that we can achieve zero accidents.
He also urged pilots to establish “personal minimums.” For example, is a 20-minute VFR fuel reserve enough, as the FAA recommends? “What do you say?”

Countering the “cowboy” image which has hampered perception of the helicopter pilot community, Mayhew advised, “Never fly in the same cockpit with someone braver than you.”

If you’re flying today, make it personal. Zero in on safety.


Rick Adams is chief perspective officer of AeroPerspectives, an aviation communications consultancy in the south of France, and is the editor of ICAO Journal.


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