Are We Aiming at the Correct Target?
I am sure most of you are familiar with the various accident reduction efforts within the industry - be they Helicopter Association International, FAA, the International Helicopter Safety Team, Tour Operators Program of Safety, Airborne Law Enforcement Association or the European Helicopter Safety Team. The basic premise of these efforts is to reduce the number of accidents that occur within the helicopter community - either the aggregate number or those that involve fatalities.
The good news is that we have been utilizing a methodology predicated upon data analysis—not general perceptions, anecdotal observations and the like—to determine the causal effects of the accidents and to develop mitigating strategies. In the helicopter world, it is equally important to ascertain which mission profiles are experiencing the greatest number of accidents in which type of operating environments. These protocols are important since we have finite resources to focus in the direction of the specific area of concern that will produce the highest return on our investment—namely the largest reduction in the accident rate.
However, I have been experiencing an uneasy feeling for some time that we may be missing the target regarding our focus on the mission profiles that we think are the source of the problem. In the course of conducting safety presentations and serving on panels, I like to ask the attendees which industry segment is experiencing the highest number of accidents and needs the most attention. I almost always get the same immediate response: helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operations. It is the answer I expect in consideration of the HEMS activities I have been involved with, such as a four‑day NTSB hearing, congressional testimonials I have given, response to an FAA NPRM, many press interviews, and untold industry forums and work groups.
I get it; these are high profile accidents that garner lots of attention. While all of us are focusing on HEMS operations — which we should do, in our pursuit of zero accidents — the statistics paint a different picture as to where our major safety problem truly lies.
It appears that the majority of helicopter accidents are occurring in the personal flying FAA Part 91 operations and in the initial pilot training environment. Ironically, I do not recall any significant NTSB or congressional hearings on these types of operations, nor any major FAA NPRM or regulatory initiatives, requests for press interviews on the subject, nor a plethora of industry forums or work groups.
Bottom line indicates that, if we do not get a handle on these types of accidents, we will not have a significant positive effect on the overall accident rate.
While we need to continue our efforts in eliminating accidents in the commercial operations arena, an aggressive focusing of resources needs to be made in an outreach to the personal flying and training community.
HAI has already moved in this direction via a Memorandum of Agreement we have signed with the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam). We have been supporting logistically and financially a series of safety and educational forums/workshops aimed at engaging General Aviation pilots and aircraft owners, as well as helicopter CFI and training specialists.
Additionally, we are producing electronic-based safety products such as DVDs and Web‑based information that will help inform the GA helicopter community as to the accident causation factors and mitigating strategies. Will these efforts alone solve the problem? Of course not, but they will move us toward the solution.
I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do believe we should think outside the box. How about commercial operators and their staff outreaching to the helicopter GA community in a structured manner, so that we are all working towards our common goal of zero accidents through a safety‑first mentality? Ever think about being a safety partner in the FAASTeam program? If you are a company, sponsor a safety forum at your facility; or, if you are a pilot or mechanic, teach at a pilot/technician clinic or CFI workshop.
Mentor a less experienced pilot or instructor and — who knows — maybe us old guys might learn a new thing or two in the process. I sincerely believe that we would all gain from strengthening the relationship between industry segments — after all, what is the downside?
What are your thoughts?
Let me know via email: TAILROTOR@AOL.COM