Low hovering fruit: Why the FAA and EASA are right to revise helicopter safety standards

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It should not be surprising that, after 20 years of certificating helicopters to a given set of standards, the US Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency have agreed the certification bar should be raised for new-build rotorcraft. In fact, the most recent products from Bell, Eurocopter, Sikorsky and others would almost certainly pass the more demanding tests now, so the FAA cannot claim to be pushing a reluctant industry.

Helicopters, especially those designed more than 25 years ago, were notoriously more difficult to handle than fixed-wing aircraft, and the new push is intended to take advantage of what modern helicopter manufacturers can now achieve in making them much less tricky to fly, more stable, and more forgiving at the edges of their flight envelope.

It is no coincidence that the FAA's notice of proposed rulemaking setting out these higher standards coincides with the resolution, agreed last year at the International Helicopter Safety Seminar in Montreal, to drive globally for far higher operational safety standards. This industry initiative is likely to produce its first policy recommendations by the end of this year, and the FAA joined it from the beginning.

Let no-one forget, however, that the "legacy" helicopters will be working for years yet, and that is where the greatest effort to improve is needed.