The number of helicopter accidents in Europe, although decreasing, remains alarming: 98 accidents in 2007 and 72 in 2008*, with an accident rate much higher than with fixed-wing aircraft. These worrying statistics must change. Therefore, on 9 September, a group of European helicopter pilots met in the ECA offices to brainstorm a strategy to improve helicopter safety in Europe.
Helicopter operations have obvious differences to fixed-wing, with different kinds of risks. Given the higher accident rate, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) set up the European Helicopter Safety Team (EHEST), under the auspices of the European Safety Strategy Initiative (ESSI) (see chart). The aim of EHEST is to have reduced the rate of helicopter accidents by 80% in 2016. To this end, they have created regional teams of experts, tasked to analyse the data available on the accidents between 2000 and 2005 (EHSAT) and to come up with recommendations to help improve safety (EHSIT).
Another challenge in this area is the harmonisation of helicopter rules at the European Union level. Indeed, for some operations e.g. SAR (Search and Rescue), helicopters currently fall under the SOLAS convention (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea). The EASA draft rules on air operations (so-called "NPA OPS", published in January 2009) deliberately excluded SAR and fire fighting operations. ECA strongly opposes this decision and has made proposals to re-introduce them into the law.
ECA has been monitoring the work of the EHEST and closely follows the developments of the NPA OPS and of helicopter rules at EU level. So our call is to
- EASA; not to abandon a significant section of helicopter operations in their regulations;
- other groups in the helicopter industry; to join with us in surpassing the 80% target by 2016;
- and to Helicopter pilots everywhere – to ensure they are represented at IFALPA and ECA to protect their future; if not, join us - you will be very welcome!
*EASA, Annual Safety Review, 2008.