Safety-Based Culture

International Helicopter Safety Team Improves the Bottom Line
February 23, 2010
Putting their money where their mouths are: That’s what the industry/government members of the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) have done. At the International Helicopter Safety Symposium (IHSS) 2009 held in Montreal at the end of September, IHST members released three “toolkits” designed to aid operators in achieving safer flights, and updated statistics on the causes of and possible remedies for U.S. helicopter accidents.

The International Helicopter Safety Symposium (IHSS) 2009 was held in Montreal at the end of September.

The toolkits are the Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring (HFDM) Toolkit, the second edition of the Safety Management Systems (SMS) Toolkit, and the new Helicopter Training Toolkit. Also released at the convention was the U.S. Joint Helicopter Safety Analysis Team (US JHSAT) report into the 174 U.S. helicopter accidents that occurred in 2001. It detailed accident causes in depth, and provided more than 1,000 recommendations for avoiding similar accidents in the future.

All three publications are available from the IHST’s website, ( They represent the groups’ ongoing efforts to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in helicopter accidents by 2016. Collectively, these documents are meant to help helicopter operators improve their safety records, without compromising their bottom lines. This is why IHST’s members, who come from across the industry, have donated their time to write these documents and offer them to everyone at no charge.

That’s right: “They’re free to the operator,” said Matthew Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Association International (HAI) and IHST co-chair. “There is no cost.”

Matthew Zuccaro, president of HAI and IHST co-chair.

The Toolkits Described
The Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring (HFDM) Toolkit explains the usefulness of collecting in-flight helicopter performance data on an ongoing basis. The idea is not to provide a post-accident source of investigative data – although HFDM information does help in this regard – but rather to prevent accidents by identifying problems when they first make their presence known. But that’s not all: “Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring (HFDM) is a systematic method of accessing, analyzing and acting upon information obtained from flight data to identify and address operational risks before they can lead to incidents and accidents,” explains the HFDM Toolkit. “The information and insights provided by HFDM can also be used to reduce operational cost and significantly enhance training effectiveness and operational, maintenance and engineering procedures. Information from HFDM programs is unique since it provides objective data that otherwise is not available.”

Having made the case for HFDM, the Toolkit guides operators through the planning, implementation and maintenance of such systems. Think of it as a free step-by-step consultant’s report ... without having to pay a consultant!

The Helicopter Training Toolkit (HTT) is an exhaustive look at the rationale, issues and methods for effective training of helicopter pilots. It explains and emphasizes the need to educate pilots thoroughly both on the ground and in the air. The HTT also reinforces the IHST’s call for more simulator training to help pilots learn to deal with emergency situations in safe, repeatable circumstances.

Worth noting: “Training in human factors, risk management and decision-making is crucial to providing quality effective training,” says the HTT. “Analysis of accidents has continually shown that these elements were deficient. It is imperative that all training includes these elements in great detail and that the training in these factors contains current realistic scenarios to reinforce the concepts. These are considered ‘soft skills’ and are often difficult to instruct as well as learn unless effective visual training aids are used. Simulators and flight training devices are the most effective tools for instilling these principles. Role playing, teamwork and communication exercises are also very effective for use in the classroom environment.”

The second edition of the SMS Toolkit draws on the US JHSAT’s investigations into U.S. helicopter accidents, to provide operators and pilots with ways to avoid such tragedies. But the toolkit is more than this: It is really a self-administered course that allows operators to assess their own companies, and create an SMS that fits their needs and budgets. Add to this the inclusion of a sample SMS plan, an extremely useful document that – if followed – can help operators implement a safety culture at their companies and you have an invaluable resource

“An SMS provides an organization with the capacity to anticipate and address safety issues before they lead to an incident or accident,” according to the SMS Toolkit. “An SMS also provides management with the ability to deal effectively with accidents and near misses so that valuable lessons are applied to improve safety and efficiency. The SMS approach reduces loss and improves productivity.”

The Toolkits in Context
The IHST’s toolkits are detailed, practical tools that can be used by any helicopter operator, whether their ‘fleet’ is made up of one aircraft or 100. By themselves, these clearly-written, well structured documents are worth the read. However, within the context of the helicopter accidents that inspired the IHST’s creation in 2005, they verge on the profound.

The US JHSAT CY2001 (calendar year 2001) report, which was released at IHSS 2009 and is also available on the IHST website, makes this point loud and clear.

The facts speak for themselves: There were 174 U.S.-registered helicopter accidents in 2001; down from 197 the year before. In 2001’s 174 U.S. accidents, 48 people died among a total person load of 373. The deaths occurred in 28 accidents, or 16 per cent of the total accident rate. Niney-one (52 per cent) of the accidents were accident-free; 38 resulted in minor injuries, and 17 in serious injuries.

“The majority of CY2001 accidents occurred during Personal/Private flying, 38 missions (22 per cent) and Instructional/Training, 29 missions (17 per cent),” says the Report. “The landing phase accounted for 45 (26 per cent) of the accidents, hover 30 (17 per cent) and maneuvering 29 (17 per cent).”

Property damage: 137 helicopters involved in the U.S.’s 2001 accidents were “substantially damaged,” the Report says. “Thirty-two (18 per cent) were destroyed, one (0.6 per cent) had minor damage and four (2.3 per cent) had no damage reported. Twin turbine advocates may take comfort that only 14 of the helicopters involved in this accident period were twin turbines. The rest were either single turbines (84) or single pistons (76). Based on the data, the less experience (time) a pilot had logged on a particular make and model of helicopter, the more likely they were to have an accident.

To sort out the various causes for the 174 accidents, the US JHSAT created a number of Standard Problem Statements (SPS). (It is easier to think of them as categories, for that is what they are.) The SPSs encompass accident causes such as Pilot Judgement & Actions, Data Issues, Safety Management, and Ground Duties, among others.

According to the Report, the Pilot Judgment and Actions SPS (category) “dominated the problems, appearing in over 80 per cent of the accidents analyzed.” Musing on this point, the Report’s authors added that, “The dominance of Pilot Judgment & Actions factors is similar to the conclusions of previous studies. The pilot is the last link in the chain of events leading to an accident; he or she is the only one who can affect the outcome once the sequence of event problems has started. If the pilot's judgment and actions in response to problems, whether pilot-initiated or not, can be improved, there is the potential for more than 80 per cent of the accidents to be mitigated, either prevented entirely or reduced from fatal to minor injury.”

It is worth noting, as IHSS 2009 co-chair Zuccaro did at the convention, that the causes of helicopter accidents go beyond pilots to encompass many “human factors.” They include aircraft design and the heavy workload pilots must manage in flight; the way pilots have been trained and supervised, and the manner in which aircraft are – or are not – maintained. In fact, as the thousand-plus recommendations in the US JHSAT CY2001 Report make clear, the responsibility for safety must be addressed at all levels of the helicopter industry; from maintenance and flight instructors to managers and aircraft manufacturers. Still, the pilot does constitute the final defense against errors and oversight, as the Report makes clear. This is why improved pilot training and support is central to achieving the goal of accident reduction.

What’s at Stake
To the IHSS’ credit, the goal of reducing accidents by 80 per cent by 2016 has not blinded its awareness that every accident affects people, not just payloads. For his part, IHSS co-chair Matthew Zuccaro is quite focused on this human point, which is why he wants to see the industry stay focused on eliminating accidents, period.

“I am not willing to accept that ‘accidents happen,’” he declared at the closing of IHSS 2009. “Can you imagine an industry that is accident free? We would have no loss of life or injuries, revenue or aircraft!”

Granted, wanting zero accidents does not mean accidents won’t occur. But by moving the helicopter industry towards a safety-based culture, where risks are properly weighed and wider margins for error are factored into helicopter flight, fewer lives and aircraft will be lost. This reduction will improve both the human and financial bottom lines of the industry, and temper public anger when tragedy does strike.

The three toolkits released at IHSS 2009 go a long way to achieving this goal. Smart operators will download and read them as soon as possible. They can be found online at

More in this category: « Goodyear: Columnist  |  Passport Daze »

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