Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Civil Helicopter Accidents in 2015 Declined in U.S., Statistics Show: Preliminary data shows spotty progress elsewhere around the world

The Wall Street Journal
By ANDY PASZTOR
March 1, 2016 8:24 p.m. ET


Total accident and fatality rates for civil helicopters in the U.S. dropped more than 15% in 2015 versus a year earlier, even as safety advances eluded many other parts of the globe.

Annual crash statistics released by Helicopter Association International, the industry’s biggest trade association, on Tuesday indicated gradual but steady progress across the U.S. with roughly one fatal nonmilitary crash for every 200,000 flight hours. But the preliminary data also highlighted the spotty nature of progress world-wide.

In Canada and Brazil, for instance, the raw number of crashes and frequency of fatalities either remained on a plateau, or moved upward.

Europe, on the other hand, achieved more than a 50% year-over-year drop in total accidents as well as fatal accidents. But as is often the case outside of the U.S., safety experts didn’t release specific rates partly due to the difficulty of accurately determining the cumulative number of hours helicopters actually flew throughout the region.

Even for U.S. operations, the overall rate of more than seven accidents per 200,000 flight hours was only marginally improved from levels recorded in 2010 and 2011. And the preliminary 2015 rate was almost identical to the preliminary 2014 rate released a year ago.

Rates typically are adjusted based on updated information about accidents, helicopter registrations and other variables.

The U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, a joint industry-government organization spearheading the nationwide rotorcraft safety drive, reiterated its basic conclusions from a year ago. The latest release said the overall rate of crashes continues to be down more than 50% from baseline figures assembled before the sweeping accident-reduction effort was launched in 2006.

The initial goal, for the U.S. as well as globally, was to slash civil helicopter rates 80% from that baseline by 2016. But once that target seemed unreachable, industry leaders stopped publicly relying on that metric, and instead started defining their “vision” as eventually eliminating all chopper accidents world-wide.

More recently, industry safety experts increasingly are moving to focus more attention on dissecting and keeping track of fatal accidents, rather than monitoring across-the-board accident rates. They also are shifting to identify hazards and potential accident scenarios in specific segments of the industry.

The latest chopper statistics come weeks after airline experts reported a milestone achievement for their industry. For all of 2015, not a single passenger died as a result of a jetliner crash anywhere in the world. That accomplishment excludes jets that were shot down, intentionally brought down by a pilot or mysteriously disappeared during cruise.

Helicopters are much more prone to crashing than fixed-wing aircraft because they routinely fly close to the ground near potential deadly obstacles; many are operated by a single pilot, rather than the two-person crews found in cockpits of airliners and business aircraft; and they perform a wider array of roles, from flying into remote mining areas to being used as air ambulances that often transport patients from unfamiliar locations in bad weather.

According to a recent helicopter safety report by Flightglobal, an online news and information website, there was one fatal crash of a Western-built turbine helicopter per 380 aircraft in service in 2015. Those totals include government-operated flights but exclude military operations. The comparable rate in 2014 was one fatal event per 600 operating helicopters. Single-engine models continued to suffer substantially more fatal events than twin-engine choppers.

Still, the report concludes that “on average, Western-built turbine helicopters are now about twice as safe as they were at the start of the 1990’s.”

Original article can be found here: http://www.wsj.com

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