Rotor & Wing International
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Preventing Accidents: Are We Making Progress?

In fiscal 2017, there were 118 accidents with 17 fatal accidents that included 29 fatalities.

There have been 10 helicopter accidents in November — three fatal, taking 10 lives. This fatality is the highest during the month of a November since fiscal year 2013.

In fiscal 2017, there were 118 accidents with 17 fatal accidents that included 29 fatalities.

The accident count was two higher than those in fiscal 2016, but tied with fiscal 2015 for the second-lowest accident count in the past 35 years. For most of the year, 2017’s cumulative monthly accident count was the lowest on record. Any remaining margin of improvement over previous years went away when July’s high accident count (23) elevated 2017’s numbers back to a cumulative total comparable with 2015 and 2016.

The estimated accident rate of 3.46 per 100,000 flight hours in 2017 was the lowest among the 10 years currently being tracked (2008 to 2017). Both the accident count and rate for the past three consecutive years have been stable at 118 accidents per year with an annual rate between 3.46 and 3.71 per 100,000 hours.

The fatal accident count was unchanged from the previous period. As a result, 2017 tied with 2016 and 2011 for the second lowest count in the past 35 years (lowest count was 2015).

For six of the past seven years, the fatal accident count has had little variation, with between 17 and 20 fatal accidents during each of those years. The estimated fatal accident rate of 0.5 per 100,000 flight hours tied with 2011 for the lowest among the 10 years currently being tracked.

The highest four accident industries (personal/private, training, utility and air ambulance) have seen minimal change in the past three years, a trend that continued in 2017.

This is the fourth consecutive year the fatal accident rate has decreased. Since 2014, the fatal accident rate has decreased by 0.04 per 100,000 flight hours each year. However, the first few months of fiscal 2018 had an increase in accidents and fatalities. There have been between 29 to 32 fatalities in U.S. rotorcraft accidents for each of the past four fiscal years.

Recently, The FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service and Flight Standards Service, as well as the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), worked to ensure the broader U.S. rotorcraft community was alerted of this alarming trend and informed them of resources they could immediately access to assist in fatal accident prevention. Flight Standards distributed a message to more than 40,000 rotorcraft pilots.

In my previous article, I wrote about how the USHST is wrapping up an in-depth review of 52 fatal accidents to see if it could find similarities and make recommendations to help prevent future accidents. This review indicates some common safety practices were not followed. We as pilots, mechanics and operators need to review how we are conducting safety management and ensure our fellow aviation professionals follow safety practices and protocols.

Operators, pilots and maintenance personnel can all practice safety, but if they do not address the human factor aspect of their jobs and think through their actions, accidents will continue. In many accidents, human factors and poor judgment and decision-making, such as flying too close to water or not practicing good situational awareness, contribute to these accidents.

Many operators enhance safety by conducting yearly human factors training for their employees. This is a great risk mitigation tool, but the message must be practiced every day, not just yearly.

There was progress with safety awareness and management in 2017, but the industry still has a long way to go to fully understand and implement a safety culture where everyone follows and addresses human factors as the greatest hazard in aviation operations. This could be as simple as a final walk-around inspection, attention to procedural compliance or a proper flight briefing. It also is a flight instructor’s responsibility to train and produce safe pilots. Remember, no one sets out to crash a helicopter, but we still have accidents. RWI