Do We Have the Collective Will?
(No Pun Intended)
I wanted to thank the hundreds of people who have taken the time to email me their thoughts and ideas in response to my messages — I am sincerely grateful. In reading each email regarding safety topics, I noticed a common thread among respondents which appears to indicate a general agreement on what is causing the accidents. The general consensus is that human factors/decision making, and business-related issues are the major culprits.
As far as I know, nobody has invented a new way to crash a helicopter; we just keep repeating the same errors, year after year. I now only read the first few sentences of the NTSB report and I generally can write the rest of it from memory.
We all seem to agree on the problem, yet we have not been able to reduce the number of accidents. Sure; every now and then we experience a reduction, but unfortunately that is subsequently offset by a string of unfortunate events.
Of interest; following an accident, everyone puts a focus on the specific mission profile and throws everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink at the problem. And you know what? The accidents stop for a while. We go six months, no accidents, nine months, no accidents, one year, nothing. And just about the time we start feeling good about ourselves, the first accident report comes in, then the next, and the next.
Each time we experience this cycle we have safety forums, governmental hearings, studies, and a heightened safety focus. We talk about new regulations and advanced technology. Who is to blame? Is it the owner/operators, pilots, maintenance technicians, customers, governmental agencies, elected officials? Where do the various associations, such as HAI, fit into this picture?
How many times are we going to go through this cycle before we get the message? This is a reality check and we seem to miss the trees for the forest. The fact is; all of the above players are responsible to varying degrees. It is not realistic to expect any significant safety progress if we are all not willing to step up to the plate. I am not talking about adding another black box in the cockpit, writing a new regulation, issuing politically correct legislative mandates, or implementing the latest fad in operational procedures.
We need a true out-of-body experience, a major watershed moment which will in fact change the way this industry does business. We need an industry consensus regarding how we operate helicopters, with safety being first, above all else, and I mean all else, every day. Not when it is convenient, but when it creates the inability to perform the flight safely, when it puts you in conflict with your customer, your boss, even when safety might have a negative effect on your business activities or competitive standing. You need to think safety first. Please do not tell me that this is not the real world. Then what is the real world, having accidents and trying to explain that someone else made me do it, the realities of life prevented me from doing the right thing? You are in denial.
The standard should be predicated on a philosophy that One Accident is One Too Many. Yes, statistical analysis is necessary in terms of accident rate per 100,000 hours flown, but only as a comparative measurement to other aviation activities. We should strive for no accidents, and not a philosophy that in any activity involving man and machine, accidents can be expected and are a statistical certainty. If we wake up in the morning prepared to accept accidents, then we should stop making believe we are trying to do something. If you are willing to justify one accident, why not 10, or 100, or any accident — where do you stop?
I am sure many of you are questioning whether I have lost it with such expectations. However, I can only reference the many times in 40-plus years I have heard that something cannot be done in the helicopter industry. Like the expert who told me routine IFR helicopter operations will never happen.
Bottom line; do we as an industry actually have the collective will to stop accidents?
I believe we do. And I think we can — share the vision of “No Accidents.” Imagine what that would be like; let’s change the way we do business.
That is my story and I am sticking to it. What are your thoughts; let me know at TAILROTOR@AOL.COM.
As always; Safety First, Fly Neighborly.
Matt Zuccaro is President of HAI.