Aviation Safety’s Neglected Child: Helicopter Operations

3 months, 4 accidents, 13 fatalities… and this in Spain only[1]. In Europe, since the beginning of the year, 74 helicopter accidents have occurred, resulting in a total of 43 fatalities. The figures speak for themselves; and yet, little seems to be done to improve helicopter safety. Could you imagine these statistics translated into fixed-wing commercial air transport? Do you think the governments would look passively at them? Of course not. Then, why is it that helicopter safety seems to attract so little attention from the decision-makers? It is time to act!

According to a study carried out by SEPLA (the Spanish Pilots’ Association), an average of 7 accidents per year occurred in Spain between 2000 and 2010 (68% of which in aerial work operations), with 4,45 fatalities (crew and passengers) on average per year. If these statistics were to be extrapolated to the 38,600 fixed-wing and rotary-wing pilots represented by ECA, it would mean that some 227 crewmembers would die each year in Europe in air accidents.

And yet, these accidents do not make the headlines. Each day, hundreds of helicopter pilots go to work, many of them to save lives (Search and Rescue, firefighting, Helicopter emergency medical services, etc.). But they do so at the risk of their own lives. Why? Because the governments and the European Union do not consider it as their priority. How many more fatalities do they need to realise that something is going wrong?

In 2011, Spain so far accounts for almost a third of all fatalities that have occurred in Europe as a result of helicopter accidents. For a long time, SEPLA has been ringing alarm bells about the lack of regulation and oversight of helicopter operations in Spain. The consequences of these lacks in the system are now being felt, at the detriment of crew and passengers’ lives. ECA therefore strongly supports COPAC’s (Official Guild of Commercial Aviation Pilots) and SEPLA’s demand to the Spanish Authorities to urgently develop comprehensive rules for aerial works operations and ensure their effective oversight. ECA has also been active – and will continue to be so – at EU level to raise awareness about helicopter safety and the need for adequate safety regulations at national and EU level.

Photo by Carlos Feirreira



[1]between 19 March and 18 June 2011.