Knowledge is King, and
Will Help Find the Answer
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have seen two parties presenting opposing points on an issue, where the one with the current, accurate information and/or data comes out ahead. This simple fact is critical to the helicopter industry when one considers that as a collective group of individual operators, we find ourselves in the position of countering the misinformation of our opponents on a regular basis.
If we are not prepared to back up our statements and representations with relevant information and data, we are destined to fail in our efforts, and will ultimately misdirect valuable assets, manpower, and funding to inappropriate initiatives. When addressing such issues as safety, operational efficiency, economic viability, heliports, and airspace access, possession of the correct information is critical if we are to succeed.
Consider the fact that no one currently knows how many actual hours are flown by the international helicopter community. Since helicopter owner/operators are not required to report this information, we rely on estimates from various sources such as the FAA and industry stakeholders, whose estimates continue to be revised on a regular basis. It is generally accepted that these estimated hours are in fact under reported, thereby giving an incorrect projection of the helicopter industry’s safety record when charting accidents per 100,000 hours flown, as compared to other segments of the aviation industry which do report their hours. If helicopter owner/operators were required to report the total annual flight hours flown, this simple action alone would result in a reduction of the reported helicopter accident rate, without any other effort required on our behalf.
True, this effort would not reduce the number of accidents, or the fatalities that occur, but it would give us accurate information for comparative purposes in relation to other industry segments.
Suppose we took this one step further and requested that owner/operators also provide a breakdown of the annual hours flown on specific missions, such as Helicopter Emergency Services (HEMS), Electronic News Gathering (ENG), Corporate, and Air Tours etc. This could assist us in our efforts to identify the actual mission profiles that are experiencing the highest accident rate, and would allow us to correctly prioritize our safety improvement efforts.
This is why programs such as the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) are so important to our safety improvement efforts. IHST is an analytical, data-driven initiative, which analyzes each helicopter accident to determine causation, and develops appropriate action to reduce the helicopter accident rate.
If I were to ask people, either within the helicopter industry or outside it, which industry segment has the worst accident rate, I would venture to say the general response would be HEMS. In reality this is not the case. The segments of our industry that actually have this dubious distinction are training and personal flying (part 91).
The reason for this misperception is that HEMS accidents receive a large amount of press coverage, with the loss of life being counter to the stated HEMS mission of saving lives. Additionally, the public, press, and elected officials tend to expect no accidents in HEMS operations since they are flown under the guidelines of a commercial regulatory environment, and conducted by professional aviation and medical personnel.
By contrast, those accidents that are the result of training activities or personal flights conducted by private owners, do not receive similar press coverage, and in many cases are viewed less critically by the public, regulatory agencies, and elected officials.
I am not saying that this situation is ideal, or that any accident is acceptable, since almost all accidents are preventable; nor should we change our philosophy that one accident is one too many, or our goal of preventing accidents in all mission segments, including HEMS. However the reality is that one segment of our industry, HEMS, is being viewed with an incorrect perception, while others — training and personal flying — are not receiving the attention they truly deserve.
Unless we focus on the reality of the actual mission profiles, the ones that are producing the highest level of accidents and fatalities, and address them with the correct prioritization, we will not achieve our goal of reducing accidents within the international helicopter community.
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.