While the International Helicopter Safety Team’s stated goal of reducing the civil rotorcraft accident rate 80 percent by 2016 is far short of ever coming to fruition, the organization’s existence is having a positive effect on bringing the numbers down.
Anyone with a basic understanding of aerodynamics and probability might view the 80 percent goal as a lofty (and even unrealistic) target, but that misses the point. While it might be easy for critics to dismiss the team’s efforts for not having a big enough impact on lowering the numbers, what’s not easy is reducing the accident rate. The safety team released an update on current trends and statistics in January. From 1999 to 2005, the average number of civil accidents worldwide stood at 570, with the average trending up at a yearly rate of 2.5 percent. Since 2006 – when IHST was formed – the average number is down to 515 accidents.
During this period, however, the average is trending down at an annual rate of around 2 percent. Anywhere close to 80 percent lower? Still outside the ballpark, but safety is not a game. Let’s not get lost in the details – progress is progress, and the world is much better place with IHST around.
The organization is “fairly confident that the accident rate is declining by at least as much as the accident count is declining (down 2 percent).”
So how does the helicopter community close the gap between IHST’s goal and the unpredictable nature of the “accidents will happen” mindset? Because “the global helicopter accident rate is still unacceptable,” IHST notes. “People are still dying in helicopters from entirely preventable accidents.”
A big part of the answer is training and safety management system (SMS) programs. IHST offers a number of toolkits at www.ihst.org, as well as analysis of accident trends and ways to prevent helicopter accidents.
It also helps to know the factors that typically lead to accidents. According to IHST, loss of control and diminished visibility (darkness, fog, glare and the like) contribute to a third of all helicopter accidents involving fatalities. Other frequent occurrences in fatal accident statistics include fires, wire strikes, and failure of system components. IHST lists controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), autorotations, fuel issues and icing as repeated factors.
IHST is sticking to its goal to reduce the accident rate, and so should you. If we’re all lucky, the trend will continue down another two percent or more over the next few years. Whether or not the goal of zero accidents is ever reached, let’s not just sweep aside indications of moving in the right direction – every little bit saves lives.
Top 10 Ways to Prevent Helicopter Accidents
• Install cockpit recording devices
• Improve autorotation training
• Incorporate advanced maneuvers into simulator training
• Emphasize critical issues awareness during training
• Enhance aircraft performance and limitations training
• Strengthen emergency procedures training
• Incorporate a personal risk management program
• Establish a mission-specific risk management program
• Follow ICA procedures
• Put in place a strong quality assurance management system