According to the International Helicopter Safety Team, the rotorcraft accident rate has fallen 30 percent in the past five years (from 2006 to 2011/early 2012) when compared to 2001-2005. Describing the decrease as a “strong step in the right direction,” IHST notes that despite making progress, “if our current statistical trend continues, the industry will not meet its goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2016.”
The organization points out that on average, a helicopter accident happens once a day worldwide, adding that 91 of the accidents that took place during 2010 resulted in the deaths of 222 people.
IHST analysis indicates that higher accident rates are evident among general aviation, training and small operators than for commercial missions such as EMS, law enforcement and tour operations.
According to a report from the U.S. Joint Helicopter Safety Analysis Team that studied 523 NTSB accident reports from three different years (2000, 2001 and 2006), personal flying and training accounted for the two highest percentages of the total helicopter accidents by industry/mission type, at 18.5 and 17.6 percent, respectively (see chart below). Aerial application is the only other mission type to reach a double-digit share (10.3 percent), with many larger operators coming in lower, including EMS at 7.6 percent, commercial at 7.5 percent, law enforcement at 6.5 percent and air tour at 5.9 percent. Offshore (at 4.2 percent) and firefighting (at 3.6 percent) are among the lower half of the 15 categories.
JHSAT also broke down the statistical information from the NTSB reports into activities, finding that instructional/training accounted for 22.8 percent of the accidents, followed by positioning at 13.2 percent, personal/private at 12.4 percent, passenger/cargo at 9.8 percent and aerial application at 9.0 percent. Among the 16 activities identified in the study, law enforcement (at 2.5 percent), EMS (1.1 percent), electronic newsgathering (1.0 percent), utility (1.0 percent) and SAR (0.4 percent) ranked in the bottom six.
IHST is calling for the entire helicopter community to get involved in raising awareness. The organization offers a series of safety toolkits, reports and presentations at www.ihst.org and is seeking to launch a “more expansive” grassroots campaign targeted at improving safety. “When the entire helicopter industry steps up to voluntarily address safety, everyone benefits,” the group notes in a statement.
A conglomerate of industry and government representatives, IHST formed in 2005, and in 2006 set the target at lowering the accident rate by 80 percent over the subsequent decade. FAA, HAI, the American Helicopter Society and the Helicopter Association of Canada are all involved, and industry partners include AgustaWestland, Bell, CHC Helicopter, Eurocopter, Shell Aircraft and Sikorsky. From 2001-2005, the global accident rate stood at 9.4 accidents per 100,000 operating hours. IHST’s goal is to shrink that number to 1.9 accidents per 100,000 hours by 2016.
Percentage of Accidents by Industry/Mission Type
Personal/Private: 18.5 percent
Aerial Application: 10.3
Helicopter EMS: 7.6
Law Enforcement: 6.5
Air Tour/Sightseeing: 5.9
Business Aviation: 4.8
Aerial Observation: 4.2
External Load: 2.7
Electronic Newsgathering: 1.7