By Staff Writer | March 1, 2005
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The Next Step In Safety

Helicopter operators in the Gulf of Mexico are assessing how much an ongoing risk-reduction program has improved aviation safety in the region and what additional steps must be taken to reverse a rising trend in accidents there.

Operators have taken many actions under the program, launched over a year ago. Under the banner of the Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference, they have established new recommended practices and guidelines for automated tracking systems, collision avoidance, engine monitoring and vibration systems, helideck inspections and passenger conduct on helidecks. Additional guidelines are planned on identifying and reporting helideck hazards and improving training for single-pilot aircraft.


But operators and their customers remain concerned about GoMex accidents, their causes and their trends. The conference and the FAA jointly analyzed the 59 accidents that occurred in the Gulf between 1999 and 2004, including a review of root causes of 39 of which National Transportation Safety Board investigations had been concluded. (Of the 59, 26 occurred in 2003 and 2004; those more recent accidents accounted for nearly 80 percent of the 34 fatalities recorded over the six-year period.)

The root-cause analysis identified seven elements that recurred most frequently in the 39 accidents, based on investigators' reports. The top three were diminished situational awareness (involved in 24 of the 39 reviewed accidents), poor judgment or incorrect decisions regarding operations (involved in 22), and aircraft handling (21). The remaining elements were complacency (involved in 18), failure of equipment or a component (16), failure to follow proper operations procedures (15), and high sink rate (nine). Root causes listed as "unidentified" were cited in 11 accidents.

Perhaps most interestingly, the analysis team reported that a majority of the accidents involved root-cause lapses serious enough to be categorized as "gross negligence or reckless."

Of the 24 accidents in which diminished situational awareness was a root cause, for instance, they said 12 cases of diminishment resulted from gross negligence or recklessness. Six of the cases involved what the team called "careless mistakes." One, they said, could be attributed to "intentional actions."

For the No. 2 root cause, in which poor judgment or incorrect decisions regarding operations was cited, 14 of the 22 accidents--that's nearly 64 percent--involved judgment or decision errors that were grossly negligent or reckless. Two involved careless mistakes, but five involved intentional action.

Fifty-two percent of accidents in which aircraft handling was cited as a root cause, or 11 of the 21 total, involved actions that fell in the category of gross negligence or recklessness. Five involved careless mistakes and four involved intentional action.

The levels for the other categories were:

  • Complacency--11 of 18 (61 percent) were gross negligence or recklessness, two involved careless mistakes and four intentional action;
  • Failure of equipment or a component--five of 16 (31 percent) were grossly negligent or reckless and four involved careless mistakes. None involved intentional actions;
  • Failure to follow proper operations procedures--10 of 15 (67 percent), none involved carelessness but five involved intentional acts, and
  • High sink rate--four of nine (44 percent) were grossly negligent or reckless. Two each involved carelessness and intentional acts.

Elsewhere, in the North Sea, Offshore Logistics' Bristow Helicopters affiliate bested CHC Helicopter Corp. to provide services for Talisman Energy (UK). Bristow won the five-year contract in late January; it is effective Apr. 1. It includes an option to extend the contract for five years beyond 2010.

Bristow will fly two dedicated Super Pumas from Aberdeen to support Talisman, which also will have use of a third helicopter when needed.

CHC, which had operated two Super Puma AS332Ls from Aberdeen under the contract that expires Mar. 31, had valued that contract at about $18 million a year. CHC said it is confident the two aircraft "will be redeployed quickly in light of the increasing demand in the U.K. and in international markets.

Bristow also won a seven-year contract to support Shell's operations in the North Sea's Central and Southern sectors.

The contract is for two large and four medium helicopters, which will serve Shell's offshore operations throughout the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The deal, which takes effect July 1, follows on an existing seven-year pact between the companies.

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