Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority is increasing its level of safety surveillance and focusing on the flying training standards of the local helicopter industry following a disproportionate number of accidents for the sector.

Although helicopters make up only 12% of the country's aircraft fleet, they account for 25% of accidents, CASA director of aviation safety John McCormick recently told a helicopter chief flying instructor conference.

Most accidents are attributed to wire strike, vortex ring/over-pitching, helicopter maintenance and controlled flight into terrain. "All these accidents can be prevented by improving training and concentrating on more than just the manipulative skill of the pilot," he adds.

The helicopter industry is the fastest growing and most diverse segment of the industry, with a 58% increase in the Australian helicopter fleet since 2004, with close to two helicopters being added to the registry every week, says McCormick.

The biggest change has been in the multi-engine offshore and medium-sized single-engine market, with the growth in the oil and gas industry set to continue for a number of years.

In addition, the emergency services sector is modernising its fleet, while increasing numbers of helicopters are being used for firefighting each year. During the last fire season there was a fatal helicopter accident and a near fatal mid-air collision, notes McCormick.

"Lessons must be learned and safety measures applied without the addition of restrictive legislation," he says. While the stock mustering sector has improved its safety record lately, there is an increase in the under-recording of hours on mustering helicopters, which has previously led to a high level of accidents, McCormick notes.

As well as the growth in the sector, new helicopters have brought with them new technology, such as glass cockpits and low inertia rotor systems which require new approaches to training.

McCormick says flying operations inspectors have noticed a falling trend in the knowledge of applicants applying for chief pilot positions, with deficiencies including in interpreting a terminal aviation forecast or area forecast and preparing a flight plan.

The industry also faces problems associated with an ageing workforce, while CASA has struggled to recruit flying operations inspectors and flight training examiners to keep pace with the sector's growth.

At the end of last year, the Flight Safety Foundation created the Australian helicopter Advisory Group to improve helicopter safety in the country.

Source: Flight International