No, we have not failed
Friday, February 12, 2016
The current issue of Rotor & Wing features a photo of crumpled helicopter wreckage on the cover beneath the headline, "After 10 Years, Have We Failed?"
The accompanying article inside examines the International Helicopter Safety Team's (IHST) 2005 goal of reducing helicopter accidents by 80 percent within 10 years and some of the reasons why we, as an industry, have come up short. Okay, way short. And the fatal accident rate has remained the same for years — just under 1 in 5.
But is this some sort of a hand-wringing epic fail? Au contraire.
As Rotor & Wing editor Jim McKenna points out in his cover story, the efforts of the IHST over the last decade have "raised awareness of safety shortcomings throughout every level of the industry and in every region of the globe. They also have put a wide assortment of training aids and safety toolkits in the hands of pilots, instructors and helicopter managers on nearly every continent."
I would argue the IHST has done more than that. It has created an omnibus safety culture within the last decade that is reflected in everything from safety management systems to cockpit recorders. Turning that culture around in an industry that is so diversified and disparate was no small task.
The FAA recently renewed its focus on helicopter accident survivability — convening an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee to deal with blunt-force trauma and post-crash fires in older design helicopters. But that is no reason to lose sight of the broader goal of fewer accidents overall.
The cover of the February 2016 issue of Rotor & Wing.
Outside the IHST, industry is working with the FAA and EASA to make it more cost-effective to install IFR equipment in Part 27 helicopters and on a broader effort to rewrite the certification standards for both Part 27 and Part 29 helicopters. This likely will pay safety dividends down the road.
Meanwhile, the key to reducing accidents in the short term could be more effective data sharing through the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) system. ASIAS collects information from a wide variety of sources, including flight data recorders.
The data is then used to generate safety studies. Proprietary information is protected, and the system is nonpunitive. Sharing safety information effectively, as opposed to just siloing it, is a proven way to reduce accidents.
The rotorcraft community just began participating in ASIAS in 2013, so it will take a while for the benefits to translate into measurable results.
All of these things are progress, just not some arbitrary and unrealistic reduction goal in the accident rate. The goal of matching the safety record of the fixed-wing community may never be attainable. Helicopters have more dynamic components and fly at lower altitudes.
But have the safety efforts of the last decade amounted to failure? Far from it.
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