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Spring into Safety

Groundhog Day?

On 02 February 2019, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, thousands of people attended Groundhog Day to witness “Punxsutawney Phil” exit his burrow. If he cannot find his shadow, like he did this year, we’re supposed to experience an early spring.
This setting was the backdrop to the movie “Groundhog Day” made several years ago where Bill Murray’s character relived the same Groundhog Day over and over again. So how does a groundhog prognosticator transfer into helicopter aviation safety?

As safety professionals we have to approach each day with the same level of diligence as the previous day. The necessity to do the same things to ensure safety day after day can start to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day”. However, this constant vigilance is necessary to prepare our organizations to beat the safety gremlins and the grim reaper. If not, the likelihood of a far more tragic type of “Groundhog Day” increases. The type I’m referring to is the discouraging news of yet another fatal helicopter accident, as the recent fatal Helicopter Air Ambulance (HAA) accident reminded us.

The NTSB’s preliminary report of the accident stated that the single-engine, turbine-powered helicopter collided with forested, rising terrain killing all three occupants onboard. The investigation is ongoing with much still to be learned, but sadly the early findings are consistent with scenarios we’ve seen many times before. Repeating the errors from previous accidents contributes to safety sliding backwards, something we observed as the U.S. helicopter fatal accident rate increased 20% from 2017 to 2018 (from 0.60 to 0.72 per 100,000 flight hours).

The USHST works to reverse these kinds of trends. We accomplished accident analysis of 104 fatal helicopter accidents and determined that 50% of them were characterized by one of the following:
  • Loss of Control – Inflight (LOC-I)
  • Unintended Flight into IMC (UIMC)
  • Low Altitude Operations (LALT).
The team developed Helicopter – Safety Enhancements intended to break the tragic repetition of similar scenarios leading to another fatal accident. Check out the reports on the USHST website.

Through the course of “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray’s character makes a decision to use his foreknowledge about what is going to happen that day to better himself and the lives of others. The USHST is requesting we all do the same in our commitment, compliance, and accountability to safety!

-- Scott Tyrrell

When April Showers Show Their Teeth

Spring is finally here. Outside my window, there is sunshine, birds singing, blooming flowers, and all the other good things that end of winter brings.

But don't get fooled -- spring can also show its teeth. One of the bad things that spring brings is what I call weather complacency: the idea that nature is so bright and beautiful now, no weather-related bad things are going to happen to me.

Not so fast, my friend. Think back to last spring. Remember those really bumpy days? Wasn't that a lot of turbulence for April?

In fact, two events happen every April. First, for the first time since last Fall, the ground is heating at different rates; the dark areas absorb more of the sun's energy, and the light areas, not so much. The air above light areas retains more energy and rises, drawing cold air down from the upper atmosphere. And because of rapidly moving weather, the wind can increase suddenly and surprisingly.

Where does that happen to intrepid aviators? On short final. It doesn't matter if you are landing at LaGuardia, on the side of the road somewhere, or settling down onto an oil rig, all the way down you will be running over big bumps, and wind gusts will be yanking on your aircraft, trying to exert control.

But it's sunny, and the birds are singing ...

If all that isn't enough, there are always April showers to grow the flowers. Most of the time, they are just bothersome, restricting forward vision but not forward progress. Generally, you can avoid these rainstorms, even without a major course correction.

But sometimes, especially if you haven't been living a clean life, you happen on one of those spring days from hell. All the worst that could happen, does happen. You have high winds, low visibility, torrential rains, possibly lightning and sleet -- all coming at you at 50 knots.

How do you keep from being a weather-related statistic? Be smart early.

Study the forecasts. Instead of thinking how nice the weather will be if it misses you, consider the worst that could happen -- and prepare. Find some cover for you and your aircraft while you can still get there. Be weather alert, and don't get bit by the teeth of April showers.

-- J. Heffernan
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April 19: Dallas Regional Helicopter Safety Stand-Down
Register Online or Tell a Friend!

HSA on the Road
HSA held Helicopter Safety Stand-Downs in South Florida in February and in Las Vegas in March. We want to thank the folks in Fort Lauderdale and Las Vegas for their participation. It has been a busy couple of months with these two events and Heli-Expo 2019 in Atlanta.
Heli-Expo was an interesting event that showcased a lot of innovations in vertical lift vehicles. Bell had a full-size mock-up of the NEXUS, their air-taxi vehicle in partnership with Uber.

I was a speaker at the Rotor Safety Challenge, the free safety education series for conference attendees. My submitted title -- The Top 3 Ways to Get Dead in a Helicopter -- was cleaned up, but my talk remained the same. Of course, my focus was on how to avoid those traps and enjoy a long career in the helicopter industry.
Our next Helicopter Safety Stand-Down will be on the April 19 at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Irvine, Texas. If you are in the Dallas area, we hope that you will be able to come and join us. And if you are reading this and you have friends there -- spread the word!
-- Stan Rose
Below are some photos from the South Florida and Las Vegas Stand-Downs. Top, Bruce Webb of Airbus spreads his gospel of safety to an audience of pilots. Bottom left, HSA's Stan Rose awards Steve Hession of Henderson, NV, an ICOM radio door prize. Bottom right, Corwin Newberry, also of Henderson, NV, is shown between Stan and Bruce Webb of Airbus, holding his door prize of an H135 model.

HSA thanks
for supporting safety
in small helicopter operations.
Don't forget to add ICOM before flight!


HSA is proud to be an official partner of the FAA Safety Team.

HSA Helicopter Safety Stand-Downs are eligible for
WINGS or AMT credits.

Monthly Safety Briefing: Fatigue

The days are longer, the weather's nicer, and people are more active, spending time outdoors and staying up later. Now is a good time to hold a safety meeting about fatigue.

I was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea. I had no idea that I was not getting enough rest -- in fact, I doubted that my sleep test would reveal any information of value. Actually, the test showed that my breathing stopped many times each hour. My oxygen saturation was dangerously low for almost 40% of the night.

I thought it was normal to have to get up a few times during the night to use the bathroom -- that's what us old guys do! It turns out that I was waking up because of low oxygen. Now that I have a CPAP machine, I sleep through the night, no problem. I wake up relaxed and refreshed after a good night's sleep.

Research shows that sleep deprivation has the same impairment effect as drinking alcohol. What does that say about your performance when sleep deprived? Sleeping five hours per night for seven days is equivalent to having about seven alcoholic drinks!

Coming to work dead drunk will get you fired. Yet how many of us have come in dead tired? Maybe you have a new baby at home. Or maybe you were just too busy having fun last weekend. Fatigue may be legal but that doesn't make it right -- or a good idea.

Knowing that fatigue can impair our performance as much as alcohol does, it's no surprise that it shows up regularly in accident reports, like this investigation into a 2009 New Mexico crash: "The NTSB found that the pilot decided to take off from the remote landing site because his fatigue, self-induced pressure to complete the mission and situational stress distracted him from identifying and evaluating alternative courses of action."

As helicopter pilots and maintenance technicians, we often work unusual schedules. Shift work, night work, emergency situations -- these changes in schedule or long duty days can affect us more than we realize.

By the way, It's important to note that people are not the best evaluators of their own alertness state. I certainly wasn't -- but now that I am getting high-quality sleep, I can tell the difference.

So before you decide that fatigue risk management is meant for the other guy -- you know, the one with the fatigue problem -- why not learn more about it with these resources: What can you do to mitigate the risk of fatigue? Dr. Mark Rosekind, formerly of the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, had a few recommendations for attendees at HAI's Heli-Expo 2012:
  • Create work schedules based on what science knows about sleep
  • Work schedules should allow for at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep
  • Take steps to reduce the irregularity and unpredictability of work schedules.
Have a good month -- and get some rest!
-- Stan Rose
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