Improving Helicopter Safety – An Urgent Task

Last October, the European Helicopter Safety Team (EHEST) published its final report, having analysed 311 European helicopter accidents from 2000-2005 and suggested a way forward to improve an overall unsatisfactory situation.  ECA considers this report as a milestone for the development and implementation of concrete recommendations aimed at improving helicopter safety, an area where there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The EHEST was launched in 2006, as the European branch of the International Helicopter Safety Team, and created two sub-teams: the European Helicopter Safety Analysis Team (EHSAT) and the European Helicopter Safety Implementation Team (EHSIT). Since 2006, the EHSAT regional teams, composed of representatives of all stakeholders, met regularly and followed a data-driven methodology to identify the main  factors contributing to over 300 helicopter accidents in Europe.

The report organised the accident data into three categories of operations: Commercial Air Transport, Aerial Work and General Aviation. While human factors (pilot decision-making) and mission planning are common contributing factors in the three sectors, some differences were noted, due to the specifics of each kind of operations. Indeed, mission risk (importance of the “environment” factor – terrain, obstacle) constitutes the major factor in Aerial Work missions, while external environment awareness and inadequate pilot experience feature in third place of contributing factors for Commercial Air Transport and General Aviation operations respectively.

These findings are very important: only by identifying the contributing factors to accidents can successful counter measures and lasting possible solutions be developed. This is exactly what the EHSIT teams are focusing on now: based on the EHSAT work, they are working towards developing intervention recommendations. To achieve this, they have created three specialist teams working on:

-          Standard operating procedures, safety culture and safety management systems (SMS);

-          Training issues;

-          Regulatory issues (including standards and guidelines) to identify potential areas for future EU-wide rulemaking.

A fourth team addresses communication, as the dissemination of the related information to all industry stakeholders is key in this process.

ECA has been involved in the work of the EHEST since the beginning and is represented in all the three EHSIT specialist teams. Helicopter safety remains an important issue of concern for ECA. Recommendations from such industry-wide initiatives are an efficient way to achieve consensus proposals based on stakeholders’ technical knowledge and thereby improve helicopter safety in Europe.

To see the full report, please go to: http://easa.europa.eu/communications/docs/ehest/EHEST%20Brochure.pdf

You can also find a series of toolkits freely accessible on IHST website:http://www.ihst.org/