Safety & Training
By James Careless
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.
By James Careless
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,
(www.ihst.org). 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
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
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
“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
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 www.ihst.org.