Helicopter operators will not hit accident reduction target

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The way to achieve the desired 80% accident rate reduction target by 2016 is "to get the operators to take ownership of the solution", said US Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt in his address to the International Helicopter Safety Seminar in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier this month.

Despite small safety performance improvements after a long period of safety performance stagnation, global helicopter operators are nowhere near on-track to meet the 80% accident-rate reduction target set six years ago, according to figures released at the seminar.

However, the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) remains hopeful that the objective of an 80% reduction in the global helicopter accident rate by 2016 can still be achieved.

2011 marks the transition of the helicopter safety campaign from the data gathering and policy development phase to the policy implementation stage. Beyond this point, safety deliverables could reasonably be expected to show results, said the IHST.

Detailed regional analysis of helicopter accidents across the world has proved that rotary wing crashes happen for much the same reasons in all regions, the conference was told. Sikorsky safety specialist Steve Gleason summed up the data-driven conclusions: "We're not finding new ways to crash helicopters. We're just doing the same thing over and over."

The IHST was originally set up because the industry believed that avoidable accidents were happening. Now it has gathered the data to prove that. The top global industry problems, according to IHST data analysis, are a lack of a risk management culture at operator level, no threat and error management training for pilots, and poor pilot judgement when an accident situation develops.

Analysis reveals the top solution to poor helicopter operator safety performance is the adoption of low-cost flight data monitoring (FDM) systems, coupled with training tailored to correcting the problems revealed by the FDM.

Terry Palmer of FlightSafety International told the seminar that there needs to be a radical review of training credits for training carried out in the increasingly improved simulators and flight training devices for helicopters on the market today, because the largest proportion of rotary wing accidents take place during training. They also provide helicopter operators with the ability to carry out scenario-based training, which is common for fixed-wing pilots, but which many rotary wing aviators do not get.

The FAA's IHST representative Sue Gardner says that the main issue now is finding ways to get these messages out to the small operators, which represent more than 80% of the global helicopter industry.