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Rotorcraft Summit Highlights Innovation

By By Amy Kluber and S.L. Fuller | November 1, 2016

Mike Hirschberg with the rest of the “A Look Ahead” panel (top). The “‘Data Mining’ and Your Bottom Line” panel address summit attendees during a Q&A session (bottom). Progress in Certification Streamlining

Moderated by Woodrow Bellamy III, Editor, Avionics Magazine

Speakers:

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- Lance Gant, Manager, FAA Rotorcraft Directorate

- Jonathan Archer, Director of Engineering & Airworthiness, General Aviation Manufacturers Association

- Jamie Black, Aviation Safety Inspector, FAA Flight Standards Service Aviation Maintenance Division

- Elvi s Moniz, Vice President of Business Development - Airframe and Avionics Solutions, Vector Aerospace

Moderator Woodrow Bellamy III led discussions that provided an overview on current equipage mandates at a time when operators have expressed hurdles in getting STC approvals on equipment such as helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems, flight data monitoring and ADS-B.

Lance Gant explained that Part 27/29 rules are currently being updated to address areas that have had significant administrative burdens. He said further rulemaking is expected next year, including those for loss of lubrication in rotor drive systems and for ditching, both EASA efforts.Gant also provided an overview on efforts for rotorcraft occupant protection, recommendations for which are expected August 2018, as well as the bird strike working group, which is expected to release its recommendations in October.

Gant reassured that the ADS-B mandate “is firm for 2020.” He added that the FAA has adopted Part 23 policy for multiple STCs.

Jonathan Archer provided GAMA’s perspective in similar efforts. He posed, “How do we improve communication to use technology and improve safety?” Since certification streamlining is not there to be a shortcut but to ensure safety, Archer said that “we can find commonality, similar processes and acceptance of data being presented.” This would involve working together “to identify common ground and how to accept and overcome differences effectively.”

This is the purpose for a joint industry group campaigning for less stringent guidelines on U.S. certification of single-engine helicopter for IFR operation.

Archer advised that manufacturers seeking faster compliance for new products should learn the ways to elevate issues through their ACO if there are roadblocks. “Failing to communicate issues hinders the streamlined process,” he said.

Drones as a Business Opportunity

Moderated by Mark Colborn, Dallas Police Department pilot and R&WI contributor

Speakers:

- Brad Hayden, President and CEO, Robotic Skies

- Richard Marcus, Director of Business Development, Era Helicopters

- Terry Fogarty, Director of Business Development, K-MAX Helicopter Program, Kaman Air Vehicles and MRO

- Lance Grant, Manager, FAA Rotorcraft Directorate

Moderator Mark Colborn provided background on the interaction between the emerging drone industry, the U.S. Congress and the FAA. Since 2012, rules and regulations have undergone an evolution resulting in the accessibility (or lack thereof) with which all parties operate today. With pressure trickling from commercial entities with deep pockets, to Congress, to the FAA, getting a remote pilot certificate to fly drones is a simple process simple for everyone.

With a panel of representatives from the FAA, the drone industry and the rotorcraft industry, Colborn facilitated a multifaceted conversation. Questions arose, such as: Will drones be successfully integrated into police and firefighting forces? What does aviation play in the drone industry? Can drones and helicopters coexist, or are their markets too similar?

However varied the answers, the panel agreed that the drone industry is moving extremely quickly and that the helicopter industry is going to have to be ready. Unmanned aerial systems are safer and significantly more cost-efficient than manned aircraft. Terry Fogarty said some military personnel have said they felt safer being covered by an unmanned K-MAX than some of their own pilots. With military and civil applications, drones are a varied business opportunity that manufactures, operators and the public will figure out how to use. Aviation professionals will play a big role in that.

“Data Mining” and Your Bottom Line

Moderated by Alex Youngs, VP of Strategy & Analysis, Vector Aerospace

Speakers:

- Dennis Pierce, Owner, Colorado Heli-Ops

- Steve Predmore, VP & Chief Safety Officer, Bristow Group

- Kipp Lau, International Helicopter Safety Team Liaison to the Global Helicopter FDM Steering Group; Flight Data Management Systems Manager, SkyTrac Systems

- Cliff Johnson, Research Engineer & Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Lead, FAA Technical Center

Most simply put, “data mining” is the process of discovering hidden paths and relationships of data, said Alex Youngs.

The panel highlighted latest information-sharing initiatives, including the FAA/industry Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) project.

Cliff Johnson discussed how ASIAS began as an effort for commercial airlines to drive down their fatal accident rates using flight data monitoring (FDM). That has since evolved to general aviation, in which rotorcraft are now using FDM to assess risks and accidents. He noted a benefit of FDM as being the ability to compare an incident in one particular aircraft to others and find a systemic problem or risk.

Dennis Pierce’s Colorado Heli-Ops has found safety programs to be very affordable and easy to implement. Pierce cited having developed a curriculum based on the FAA-Industry Training Standards, or scenario-based training, that has created “pilots who have both flying and head-working skills from day one.”

But, as Johnson said, there is no “silver bullet” with technology. Systems such as health and usage monitoring systems and FDMs have great benefits, but they won’t be cure-all solutions in preventing accidents.

HeliOffshore is one collaborative group committed to raising safety levels globally. It is now made up of 100 members, according to Steve Predmore. He noted that the group’s goal is to get the industry to a point where flying offshore is no less safe than an average commercial airline flight.

Low-Level Infrastructure: Routes, Heliports and Weather

Moderated by Rex Alexander, Senior Consultant, HeliExperts International and R&WI contributor

Speakers:

- Tom Judge, Executive Director, LifeFlight of Maine / Chairman, U.S. Helicopter Safety Team Infrastructure Work Group

- Stefan Becker, Head of Corporate Development, Swiss Air Ambulance (Rega)

- Mike Bettwy, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

- Chris Baur, President, Hughes Aerospace

For this panel, environment not only refers to the natural world outside, but also to the conditions within the industry. The discussion, which focused on helicopter emergency medical services, navigated various environments through the tough terrains of rural Maine and mountainous Switzerland, as well as infrastructure in the industry from a policy standpoint.

Technology is at a point where real-time weather updates are possible. Bettwy and Baur discussed the leaps they’re making in charting and weather forecasting capabilities. Becker and Judge showed how they had to create customized infrastructure systems with routes and heliports for the difficult terrain in which their companies are forced to fly.

This advancement means that regulations are going through an update. Alexander explained how the FAA’s performance-based navigation — which shows where infrastructure and IFR are headed in the upcoming decades — only used the word “helicopter” once. It’s now been updated with more inclusion. The National Fire Protection Assn. recently added language that outlines regulations for private heliports, whereas the FAA’s regulations only can apply to public heliports.

The panel speakers agree that there’s still a long way to go to ensure safety in every operation. Monetary investment, as well as culture and regulatory evolution in the industry, must happen to reach the ultimate safety goals.

A Look Ahead: Technologies on the Operations Horizon

Moderated by Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director, AHS International

Speakers:

- Mark Moore, Chief Technologist for On-Demand Mobility, NASA Langley Research Center

- Josh O’Neil, Bell 525 Manager of Flight Technology and Test, Bell Helicopter

- Jorge Castillo, Manager, Regulations and Policy manager, FAA rotorcraft directorate

- Lionel Duprat, Director of Engineering Support, Safran Helicopter Engines

It isn’t a question of, “Are there technologies on the operations horizon?” Each on Mike Hirschberg’s panel took that question off the table. Instead, the question is, “What technology is on the operations horizon, and what will it change in the vertical flight industry?”

Each panel member had his own answer for that, with Duprat probing deeper into the way engines are already being created in order to make improvements and with the FAA starting to expedite the updating process of FAR Part 27 and Part 29 rules. Bell Helicopter has multiple tiltrotor endeavors coming to fruition with fly-by-wire technology on the priority list, and NASA is making leaps and bounds with electric propulsion.

Does this mean the traditional helicopter is in danger of becoming obsolete within the next couple decades? Maybe. Mark Moore told attendees that Silicon Valley was pouring millions of dollars into research and development for VTOL to replace expensive and high-maintenance helicopters. But he also made the point that this can only mean good things for operators. Better engines, fly-by-wire, updated regulations and electric propulsion means safer, cleaner and more economic operations.

The panel agreed that the traditionally slow-to-update helicopter industry is seeing major acceleration. Changes are expected more quickly than ever before.

Single-Engine IFR Certification and Initiatives

Moderated by James T. McKenna, R&WI Editor-in-Chief

Speakers:

- Chihoon ‘Chich’ Shin, NTSB

- Pat Moe, Director of Engineering, Cool City Avionics

- Jorge Castillo, Manager, Regulations and Policy, FAA Rotorcraft Directorate

With an FAA response to an industry proposal to simplify the process for certification of single-engine IFR helicopters and the U.S. Navy’s proposed acquisition of a new FAA-certificated single-engine IFR trainer, this panel closed the summit with updates on current initiatives in this realm.

Because the FAA’s primary goal is safety, “the unintended consequence,” said Moe, “is that it becomes prohibitively expensive to bring new technology that would improve safety to the market.”

Continued pilot training should be required among all operations, as was the case in one 2013 crash involving a SAR Airbus Helicopter AS350 B3. Through a simulated reeanactment, Shin explained how the NTSB determined the crash’s cause to be the pilot’s decision to continue flight under visual flight rules into deteriorating weather conditions. Shin further cautioned against inadequate safety management.

An industry proposal on single-engine IFR streamlining had direct input into what Castillo highlighted as the Rotorcraft Directorate’s proposed Safety Continuum, which will determine levels in FAA policies. Castillo explained this philosophy recognizes different tiers in acceptable levels of safety and certitude based on society’s views. That plan is expected for public comments by January 2017.

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