Europe is just finding out that trying to create a data-driven strategy to drive a revolution in helicopter safety standards is easier said than done, because the data simply isn't there.

Accident investigators turn up at helicopter crash sites and - unless the machine was a large one engaged in public transport operations - all they have to work with is the wreckage. There is no recorded data.

When the US Civil Aviation Safety Team began work more than a decade ago to transform civil airline safety - something it and its overseas partners have since achieved - they knew they had data. Not just from flight recorders after accidents, but as a result of working with airlines that ran flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) and other safety reporting schemes.

The world of light helicopters, since it has no installed recording systems of any kind, is living in the investigatory stone age, and the lack of data may condemn the sector to the continuing high accident rates that have stagnated for 20 years and more. If the European Helicopter Safety Team (EHEST), the regional branch of the International Helicopter Safety Analysis Team, lacks data, its ability to identify risks and create a prioritised safety improvement strategy is damaged.

It would not be feasible to foist the cost of buying and installing sophisticated recording devices onto light helicopter operators. But lightweight, affordable alternatives are on the horizon, and these could also enable operators to apply basic FOQA, and to monitor engines and systems, delivering maintenance and insurance cost savings. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic say they are reluctant to mandate this - they would prefer voluntary adoption.

Fine. But if the equipment proves itself and operators still don't volunteer, the regulators should act.

Source: Flight International