Summer in North America and Europe typically brings an increase in helicopter accidents, according to the International Helicopter Safety Team, which notes that fatal accidents in particular reach their peak in July and August. The team, set up in 2005 to pursue an 80 percent reduction in helicopter accidents worldwide by 2016, is offering pilots tips to help them avoid become a summer statistic this year.
Good Habits: Get in the habit of using pre-departure check lists, the IHST says. All pilots should use a simple checklist to ensure that they and their helicopters are ready to operate properly. The checklist should include complete weather and fuel information, details about the helicopter equipment and performance, the task at hand and a list of required documents for the operation.
Fit to Fly: Use the IMSAFE checklist to ensure you are fit to fly. Ask yourself about any illness (however slight), medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, hydration and recent diet.
Manage Risk: Conduct a personal risk analysis before each flight. Before each mission, every pilot should ask, “Does the proposed task present safety risks? What is the probability of a mishap? Are the risks worth taking?” Sometimes the wisest choice is to just turn around or land, even in a field or an open parking lot. Being asked questions by authorities such as the U.S. FAA or NTSB is better than having family members answers those questions on your behalf.
Check Forecasts: Don’t take risks in questionable weather. Avoid flying into fog or stormy weather. Of course, this is common sense that every pilot knows. However, every year, accident investigators deal with scores of helicopter accidents (often fatal) caused by pilots who took risks in bad weather. Pressing onward into a storm is never a good idea.
Keep It Up: Don’t fly lower than 1,000 feet above ground level whenever possible. This helps you avoid wires, trees and other obstacles. Even the most experienced helicopter pilots need to be vigilant about this risk and limit their exposure to it.
Protect Yourself: If your mission includes flying low, operate with wire strike protection systems. Some helicopter pilots (such as aerial applicators) must fly low as part of their operation. In these cases, the aircraft should be equipped with a wire strike protection system to prevent emergency situations from occurring.
Avoid Complacency: Dust off your emergency procedures manual and read it again. Follow the rotorcraft flight manual’s normal procedures. File a flight plan. Conduct a thorough preflight briefing among all flight participants. Follow standard operating procedures and your personal minimums. Are you aware of the Helicopter Pilots Model Code of Conduct? That code of conduct, a flight/ground risk assessment tool, pre-departure and personal checklists and many other tools are available at www.ihst.org.