Commercial, Safety, Services, Training

Leading the Way in Safety

By By Keith Cianfrani | June 1, 2012
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This month we’ll look at safety within the rotorcraft industry. After attending Heli-Expo in Dallas this year and talking with safety professionals in the industry, I decided to look at the safety management system (SMS) programs for several helicopter operators. In order to get a more accurate account of safety in the industry, we first must look at where accidents occur. According to the U.S. NTSB and accidents analyzed by the Joint Helicopter Safety Analysis Team (JHSAT), the personal/private flying and training sectors account for more than a third of the total accidents in 15 categories (see chart on page 40).

Personal flying (at 18.5 percent) and flight instruction (17.6 percent) top the list in total number of helicopter accidents. Flight instruction is always high on the list (I’ve written about this subject in earlier columns). Aerial application is inherently more dangerous than other types of flying. Now let’s examine HEMS and offshore flying. As a veteran of both of these industries, I have first-hand experience of how safety and risks are managed. While looking at how we can manage the risks listed in the chart, in my opinion there are three companies that lead the way for promoting safety and risk management. Of course, many other companies also do a fine job, but I’ll just highlight three (in no particular order), starting with Bristow Helicopters.

Bristow believes that all accidents are preventable, that injuries to employees and others in the workplace are avoidable, and that any harm to the environment is simply intolerable. Bristow’s safety team has developed a program to achieve this vision by creating Target Zero—a transformational safety program that has created a culture of safety within Bristow. The Target Zero culture and safety performance has won recognition; most recently, the NOIA 2011 Safety in Seas award. Bristow is further enhancing its industry-leading Target Zero safety culture to cover three key areas—accidents, downtime and complaints. Bristow believes safety is everyone’s responsibility.


Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI) is another example of an operator with a stellar safety record (see story on page 28). Since PHI’s inception in 1949, safety has been a core value. In five-plus decades of operation, PHI has logged more than 10 million flight hours. During this time, the company has developed and refined safety programs and practices, which have led to an unprecedented safety record in the commercial helicopter industry.

This has been achieved through awareness, training, incentives and a strong focus on pro-active efforts relative to safety management. PHI believes in a “Top Down” and “Just Safety Culture” stressing commitment and accountability. Over the past 10 years, PHI’s accident rate has ranked far below the national average. During this time period, the company flew an accident-free period exceeding two years and 550,000 flight hours. PHI has received several safety awards including Safety in Seas and the Flight Safety Foundation’s “President’s Citation for Safety Leadership” award.

Air Methods is another operator that leads the way in HEMS safety. As the most experienced air medical operator, Air Methods uses its position to encourage safety improvements within the air medical community. The company also relies on technology to assist with its safety management program. Air Methods not only supports safety concepts, but have demonstrated the commitment during the past four years by investing close to $80 million in advancing and incorporating safety programs and technologies into helicopter operations.

Air Methods is the first HEMS operator to participate in the FAA’s SMS voluntary implementation program, and one of only eight commercial air operators in the U.S. (including HEMS operators and Part 121 major commercial airlines) to receive an exit Level 2 SMS status acknowledgement letter. Air Methods logged 146,369 air medical flight hours and transported more than 111,000 patients in 2011.

Air Methods established an Operations Control Center (OCC) in March 2007; the center is based at its headquarters in Colorado and staffed with two personnel on duty during each 12-hour shift. The lead is a pilot and has EMS flying experience.

These three operators share a similar safety philosophy and have extensive training programs to complement the risk management process. In the aviation industry it’s all about risk and safety management. Operators work toward ensuring that safety programs are workable, effective and manageable with leadership involvement. Unfortunately, no matter how effective your safety program is, accidents still occur—only with a good risk management process will accidents decline. Fly safe!

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