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Latin America Notebook: No Greater Issue

By Claudio Agostini | May 1, 2007

BRAZIL’S PROMINENCE IN THE helicopter world has made it the launching point for extending efforts to dramatically improve rotorcraft safety.

The helicopter heart of Brazil and Latin America, São Paulo next month will host two significant safety events. The International Helicopter Safety Team will hold the First Regional Latin American International Helicopter Safety Symposium in conjunction with the Brazilian Assn. for Helicopter Pilots’s Fourth International Seminar on Helicopter Flight Safety. The events June 4-6 at São Paulo’s Renaissance Hotel are expected to draw industry and safety leaders from around the world.

ABRAPHE (the pilot group’s Portuguese acronym) is co-hosting the international team’s meeting with Brazil’s chief aviation safety agency, the Center for the Investigation and Prevention of Aviation Accidents (CENIPA, also in Portuguese).

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Latin American involvement in the safety initiatives is critical due to the steady growth of its helicopter market, which should continue for 20 years.

The meetings follow on the 2005 International Helicopter Safety Symposium held by the American Helicopter Society International. Its purpose was to launch a worldwide initiative to reduce the helicopter accident rate 80 percent in 10 years. More than 260 international representatives of helicopter manufacturers, military and civil helicopter operators, and international regulators agreed that the current rate is excessive and unacceptable and a collaborative effort by all should be able to achieve that goal.

The meeting resulted in the creation of the International Helicopter Safety Team, made up of operators, manufacturers, maintenance organizations, regulatory and accident investigation agencies, industry associations, and aviation media, to pursue that goal.

The international team’s approach consists of four parts. These are: to manage and maintain an effective and responsive infrastructure; to enable a data-driven approach to safety (via accident causal analyses); to analyze, develop, and implement selected intervention strategies and tracking metrics; and to promote buy-in of the safety goals, implement necessary mitigation strategies, and enhance international aviation community partnerships.

Team members consider international cooperation as the most practical approach to achieve the goal of reducing the accident rate. The truth is that a helicopter accident anywhere in the world has the potential to undermine public confidence in rotorcraft throughout the world. Improving the accident rate in North America or Europe would do little good if the rate goes unchanged in other parts of the world. With its projected growth, the industry operating at the same accident rate would result in a rising number of crashes, creating the public impression that rotorcraft safety was getting worse. That would help no one.

Work on setting up regional international partners is progressing rapidly. Leaders of the international team already have traveled to India, Asia, and Australia to set up teams in those regions.

Latin American involvement in these international efforts is critical due to the steady growth of its helicopter market and the expectation of its continued growth for at least the next 20 years. Brazil is the leader in the region, with one of the world’s largest helicopter fleets. About 1,011 helicopters operate in the country, with about half of them in São Paulo region.

The international team works through two critical working groups: the Joint Helicopter Safety Analysis Team and the Joint Helicopter Safety Implementation Team. The former has completed a great deal of analysis on a large set of accident data to look for common causal factors. The latter has already started working on implementation strategies.

The overall team’s intent is to set up a Latin America regional team with its own analysis and implementation working groups. As is the case with the efforts elsewhere, this allows the pursuit of the overriding goal of an 80-percent accident rate reduction while accounting for the specific operating characteristics and issues within the region. The regional teams will be tasked with coordinating with the main team and its analysis and implementation groups.

Ideally, regional analysis activities would start soon after the June meeting. The industry and regulatory co-chairs of the international team and its analysis and implementation groups are scheduled to attend the São Paulo meeting to explain how they have worked to date and to assist in developing the regional strategy. A key challenge will be, as it has been elsewhere, to staff the team and working groups.

To date, their members have been full-time employees of companies and agencies that have volunteered their workers’ time and travel expenses. For the most part, that challenge has been met vigorously for the existing teams.

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