Attempting to derive helicopter fatal accident rates for Europe has to be done with caution, because flight hour and trip data is only an estimate. But it's for sure that the apparent rate, at about nine fatal accidents per million flight hours, or just over three per million trips (if all landings are judged to complete a helicopter trip), are higher by multiples than airline fatal accident rates.

These figures come from the European Helicopter Safety Analysis Team, and relate to 2007 only. But the purpose of the report is not to work out accident rates but to understand why helicopter accidents happen at the rate they do, because it is deemed to be too high.

The team has years more work to do, as does its US counterpart, which reported in 2007. They are both part of an industry-driven global programme being coordinated by the International Helicopter Safety Team. The programme is not yet global because it is early days - the idea and objectives were first approved in Montreal in September 2005. But it is intended to be global, and to result in an 80% reduction in worldwide rotary-wing accident rates by 2016.


Can helicopter accidents be reduced? 
 © Action Press/Rex Features

In 2005 it was recognised that, while safety initiatives based on priorities identified using accident and incident data were yielding significant improvements in fixed-wing commercial aviation safety, helicopter accident rates and raw numbers were staying resolutely the same, so something had to be done.

An encouraging fact to emerge is that there are direct parallels between the most common causal factors in the USA and Europe, involving the same issues, whether pilot misjudgement or operator mismanagement. The lesson here is surely that the most common of the rotary-wing industry's safety problems will be shown to be - with minor variations - common to all operators. So it will not be necessary to wait for the world to file its analyses before useful action on safety performance can go ahead everywhere.

The advantage of data-driven safety programmes is that operators will find it more difficult to bury their heads in the sand and say the problem is somebody else's. In an industry dominated by small operators, that tendency is endemic.

Source: Flight International