My mind seems to wander more at this time of year than when I plunder about the routine happenings here along the U.S. Gulf Coast during the spring and summer months. Having just attended our year-ending premier safety event, I think a summary of the discussions and actions brought forth by the Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference (HSAC) would be useful. After all, a meeting of the most prominent players in the offshore heli-borne market deserves some attention. These men and women donate many hours of valuable time to share safety and regulatory issues relating to operating in the offshore environment. The time is spent working with competitors, government agencies, allied safety organizations, OEMs, most of the major oil companies and anyone else who can make a contribution that can save lives or property.
The conference is broken down into committees and work groups that concentrate on specific areas of helicopter operations from the beach to the most distant offshore oil rigs. The current workgroups are Heliport and Airways, Industry Liaison, Technical Advisory Liaison and Pipeline Aerial Observation. These meetings are open to anyone who wants to sit in and any HSAC member is invited to participate. The members of these workgroups are busy throughout the year, communicating with each other – sometimes meeting – whatever it takes to keep their projects moving forward. The wonderful thing is that they are all competitors who have banded together for the benefit of safe operations.
All participants are volunteers with no paid positions. Funding is through voluntary contributions by regular and associate members. The budget is small by today’s standards, the major cost being hotel meeting rooms. The meetings are held three times a year and rotate between New Orleans, Lafayette, La. and Houston, Texas. The rotations result in greater participation and decreased travel costs for members. The OEMs contribute greatly to the financial end by providing meals and a social hour.
During this year’s meeting on October 16 and 17 in Houston, Mark Fontenot, with BP’s Western Hemisphere Aviation Authority and also chairman of HSAC, started the conference with his introduction and opening comments. The treasurer and secretary reports followed, then it was down to business.
This meeting started with a presentation and update from Sikorsky’s Chief R&D Pilot, Ron Doeppner, referencing the long-awaited Rig Approach. This is a proprietary system developed by Sikorsky and Petroleum Helicopters (PHI) to automate an IFR offshore instrument approach to be used on the S-92.
Tony Randall with Bell Helicopter’s safety division gave an update on progress concerning the development of a polycarbonate windscreen. Many chicken shots have proved its worth against bird strikes and they are fabricating a kit for retrofit on Bell 206 models with approval to integrate the windscreen into models coming off the assembly line.
Helideck markings were a topic presented by the Heliport and Airways committee chaired by Ken Kersker. Parking space on offshore rigs was addressed, both as a need and how to mark those spaces available to prevent damage to the aircraft. A recommended practice (RP) is being sent out to all members with the information.
Allan Overbey, FAA’s ADS-B Program Manager for the Gulf of Mexico, provided an operations update. Houston Center still controls most of the Gulf, but New Orleans now has enough equipment so that they can do handoffs to each other. He emphasized the need for ADS-B Out (installed unit in aircraft). As of Jan. 1, 2020 all U.S. aircraft should be equipped with these units. The penalty for non-compliance will be denial of airspace use. Approximately 160 radars will begin shutting down on this date. He also strongly recommended ADS-B in receivers be installed due to the multitude of information that will be available. The Technical committee emphasized the need to think about updating every ones refueling points, especially the older ones. There have been many new innovations in equipment the past few years and they expressed the need for a robust fuel management system.
The Aerial Patrol committee gave a rundown on 2012 statistics relative to the accident rate per 100,000 flying hours. It is noteworthy that the accident rate for those operators who participate in HSAC aerial patrol recommended practices had a rate of 1.0 accidents per 100,000 hours vs. 6.7 for non-members.
Other topics presented by various committees covered AWOS stations (over 32 in the gulf), radio frequency assignments and usage behavior and changes to the radio frequency cards published by HSAC.
This column is a brief summary of what goes on at the meeting but the real work goes on between these meetings. There is tremendous coordination and cooperation between all the members of the conference. That’s why flying in the Gulf is so much safer today than 35 years ago (when HSAC got its start).