Provisional figures for the number of civil helicopter accidents, fatal accidents and fatalities in 2013 show no improvement over recent years and might suggest that, as far as safety is concerned, for many operators it is business as usual.
In 2013 civil western-built turbine helicopters suffered 234 known accidents of which 59 resulted in fatalities, killing 140 passengers and crew. In 2012 there were 229 known accidents including 48 with fatalities giving rise to 108 passenger and crew deaths. 2013 also showed no improvement over the annual average for the last five years of 223 accidents including 55 fatal accidents and 143 fatalities.
2013 was also a bad year for deaths and injuries to unconnected third parties in helicopter accidents. During the year there were two accidents, both in the United Kingdom, which, apart from the occupants of the helicopter, also killed people on the ground. On January 16 an AgustaWestland AW109 collided with a tower crane while inbound to Battersea Heliport, London and crashed into the street below, killing the pilot and a pedestrian, with another pedestrian seriously injured. On November 29 an Airbus Helicopters EC135, operating on behalf of Police Scotland, crashed into a bar in Glasgow killing the pilot, two police observers and seven people in the bar. A further 11 people in the bar were seriously injured.
The western-built turbine helicopter fatal accident rate in 2013, at about one per 350 helicopters in service, was some 20% worse than in 2012, when the rate was one per 420 helicopters.
However, although 2013’s fatal accident rate may have been worse than the previous year, it still compares favourably with earlier years – the turbine helicopter fatal accident rate for the decade of the 1990s was one per 230 helicopters, while that for the 2000s was one per 300 helicopters. And the average rate for the first four years of this decade (2010–2013), at one per 345 helicopters, was also marginally worse than last year.
Multi-engined types have shown a significant safety improvement over earlier periods. Their fatal accident rate in 2013 was one per 513 helicopters, compared with one per 245 helicopters in the 1990s, and one per 350 for the following decade. The rate for the first four years of this decade, one per 462 helicopters, was also worse than last year.
And although the fatal accident rate for single-engine helicopters last year showed a less dramatic improvement over prior periods it is still improving. In 2013 it was one per 303 helicopters, marginally worse than the annual average for the first four years of this decade of one per 306 helicopters. The fatal accident rate for the 1990s was one per 225 helicopters and for the 2000s one per 287 helicopters.
The underlying trend in the fatal accident rate for western-built turbine helicopters, both as a whole and separately for single- and multi-engined helicopters, is down and has been improving since about 2000. This class of helicopter, based on this metric, is now about 40% safer than at the end of the 1990s.
Turbine helicopters suffered a total of 59 fatal accidents last year, 11 more than in 2012 but nine fewer than in 2011 when there were 68. That year, however, was the worst 12 months for more than 20 years.
Despite the improving fatal accident rate, there has been no sustained improvement in the annual number of fatal accidents for many years with, on average, about 56 a year. The number of helicopters in operation has been increasing so safety must, currently, just be keeping up with the expansion of the industry – but has not improved to the point where the number of fatal accidents in a year begins to fall.
Single-engined helicopters suffered 43 fatal accidents in 2013, six more than in 2012 but three less than in 2011. The number of fatal accidents in 2013 is slightly higher than the long-term trend of 41 per year.
There were 16 fatal accidents to multi-engined helicopters in 2013, five more than in 2012 but six less than in 2011. Last year’s result again falls more or less on the long-term trend. Neither single- nor multi-engined helicopters have shown any improvement in the frequency of fatal accidents for more than 20 years.
As would be expected, the number of passenger and crew deaths as the result of turbine helicopter accidents in 2013 more or less followed the number of fatal accidents suffered during the year.
85 passengers and crew died in the 43 fatal accidents suffered by single-engine helicopters in 2013, giving a simple average of about two fatalities per fatal accident, broadly similar to 2012. In 2012 this class of helicopter suffered 37 fatal accidents killing 79 passengers and crew; 2013’s result was slightly better than the long-term average of about 90 fatalities per year but, as with the trend in the number of fatal accidents, there has been no sustained improvement in the number of fatalities per year on this class of helicopter for more than 20 years.
A total of 55 passengers and crew died in the 16 fatal accidents suffered by multi-engined helicopters in 2013, giving a simple average of 3.4 fatalities per fatal accident. 2013’s death toll was considerably worse than 2012’s when only 29 people died in 11 fatal accidents, but is an improvement over 2011, which saw 67 fatalities from 22 fatal accidents. However, as with single-engined helicopters, there has been no sustained improvement in the annual number of fatalities in accidents involving multi-engined helicopters, and the 55 fatalities recorded in 2013 is the same as the long-term average.
2013's fatality rates, on a deaths per 1,000 seats basis, generally followed the pattern for fatal accidents, with both single- and multi-engined helicopters showing a relatively poor result.
Single-engined types showed a slight deterioration in 2013, going from about one death per 750 seats in 2012 to one per 715 seats last year. Multi-engined helicopters also disappointed with a fatality rate in 2013 of one per 1,540 seats, considerably worse than in 2012 when the rate was one per 2,800 seats.
It is perhaps worrying that, although the trend in the fatality rate over the last 20 or so years has shown an improvement, this seems to have slowed in recent years.
The worst accidents in 2013 include:
•Bond Air Services Airbus Helicopters EC135 (G-SPAO) on November 29, which killed two police observers, the pilot and seven people on the ground when it crashed into a bar in Glasgow, Scotland.
•Columbia Helicopters BV234 (N241CH) on January 7, which crashed shortly after take-off from Pucallpa, Peru, killing five passengers and two crew.
•United Helicopters Bell 212 (VT-HGC), on September 29, which crashed in poor weather near Thane, India, killing three passengers and two crew.
•UniCredit Leasing EC130 (YR-BTM) on July 29, which crashed after control was lost on take-off from Taureni, Romania, killing four passengers and the pilot. One other passenger was seriously injured.
•Private Robinson R66 (N646AG) on July 27, which crashed killing the pilot and four passengers after an apparent loss of control after inadvertently entering cloud at night near Noxen, Pennsylvania.
•SADI Colombia BK117 (HK-4866) on July 9, which reportedly collided with power lines and crashed in a remote location north of Ocana, Colombia killing three passengers and two crew.
•Private Bell 206B (N207JA) on June 7, which crashed shortly after take-off from a golf course near San Luis Potosi, Mexico killing four passengers and the pilot.