Taking a 360-degree approach to helicopter safety

Taking a 360-degree approach to helicopter safety

—From an article in FSANA Flight Training News, February 18, 2021

FSANA and the Helicopter Association International (HAI) share the same vision — an industry with zero fatal accidents. In pursuit of that goal, HAI initiatives address safety across the continuum of helicopter aviation, including airframes, technology, and the people who use them.

With human performance issues as a causal factor in the majority of aviation accidents, HAI believes that the best way to improve safety in the helicopter industry is by helping people to become safer pilots, maintenance technicians, operators, and aviation professionals. HAI promotes a 360-degree approach to reducing accidents, one that addresses culture, processes and training, and the appropriate use of technology to reduce aviation risk.

HAI began over 70 years ago as a group to promote and advocate for the helicopter industry. While HAI maintains that role today, the association also makes significant and robust contributions to safety programs for the industry.

James Viola, president and CEO of HAI states, “We believe that we can lower the industry accident rate significantly by addressing human factors.” Viola has recently noted, “Over the past six months ... [HAI has] refocused our safety efforts on providing tangible resources for the helicopter community, including those targeted at helping pilots avoid or recover from IIMC, one of the leading causes of the accident discussed in the February 9, 2021, National Transportation Safety Board hearing.”

56 Seconds to Live

According to the US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), unintended entry into instrument meteorological conditions (UIMC), also referred to as inadvertent entry into IMC (IIMC), consistently ranks as one of the top causes of US fatal helicopter accidents. In 2019 alone, UIMC accounted for 33% of fatal helicopter accidents and 21 fatalities, accentuating the urgency of addressing this problem.

HAI helped support the release of "56 Seconds to Live," a UHST-produced video portraying a pilot’s rapid loss of control over the aircraft after attempting to continue VFR flight into IMC. Helicopter safety experts say the film does not exaggerate the dangers of UIMC.

“US accident statistics reveal that a helicopter pilot operating under VFR, who unintentionally continues flight into IMC, will very likely lose control of their aircraft and be dead within an average of 56 seconds,” says Nick Mayhew, industry co-chair for the USHST. “We must join industry stakeholders to do everything we can to reverse this alarming and unacceptable trend.” Mayhew hopes the film will spur pilots and operators to strengthen their training and procedures aimed at UIMC prevention and recovery.

Safety programs rollout

HAI should be congratulated for rolling out several new safety efforts this year. They include:

Flight and Maintenance Risk Assessment Tool (FRAT) — HAI has partnered with a commercial provider, NGFT Solutions, to expand the scope and accessibility of its legacy FRAT program into an expansive suite of free, customizable safety tools optimized for mobile and offline use. A transition to the new application is planned for the second quarter of 2021. Additional details are available at NGFT.com.

Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) — A robust hazard reporting program is considered essential to improving safety, and small helicopter operators with limited resources sometimes struggle to field these programs. HAI has partnered with the Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) to provide HAI members with an Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) that provides third-party support for the reporting of aviation hazards and events.