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Meet the USHST

Let me introduce you to the US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST). This is a group of industry safety professionals and FAA regulators who are working to improve safety in the helicopter world. 

The USHST believe that all accidents are preventable. They spend a lot of time analyzing helicopter accident data and proposing solutions in the form of Helicopter Safety Enhancements (H-SEs). While the H-SEs recommend specific changes such as training or equipment, the most effective change that the USHST recommends is to embrace a safety culture. We need to create an environment where it is acceptable to say no, where it is more important to be cautious than to complete the mission. As my good friend Zac Noble, deputy director of flight operations and technical services at Helicopter Association International, says, "Our desire to be safe has to outweigh our desire to fly."

The good news is … the USHST is doing great work. They know what is causing accidents, and they know how to prevent them.

The bad news is … USHST members come from the FAA and the larger operations who have safety management people on staff and enough income to budget for safety. Their views are biased toward big operations and, therefore, their solutions are not always applicable to small operations. And even though their statistics clearly demonstrate that the accidents are happening in the small operations, they are not able to “reach” this audience. They talk about their work at big events like HAI and the CHC Safety Summit each year and lament that the people who need to hear their message are not in the room.

Meanwhile, the top four areas of fatal accidents are: (1) personal/private (almost double the rate of #2); (2) utility construction; (3) ag; and (4) Part 91 tours. Small operations represent more than half of the helicopters in the USA, and these operations have around 90% of the accidents each year. Remember, that number would be even higher if we adjust for the number of hours flown by larger operations versus small ones.
My recommendations: (1) Be aware of the work of the USHST; visit and take as many safety tools and resources as you can to make your operations safer; (2) Acknowledge that flying safer can make you more money (the ROI on safety) and then measure that against the cost of just one accident in human suffering, insurance premiums, and lost work; (3) Manage your risks! The key word here is "manage."
-- Stan Rose

Kurt Robinson on Safety

Kurt Robinson, president and chairman of the Robinson Helicopter Company, gave the keynote address at the USHST annual meeting. Below are some of the his key points. My apologies to Kurt; this sounded even better when he said it! -- Stan Rose

Although there has been a lot of work done by International Helicopter Safety Team and the US Helicopter Safety Team, the fatal accident rate has not improved over the last decade. The mechanical failure rate has decreased and reliability has improved, but we still have too many accidents.

At the present time, 90% of the accidents are due to human error, and we need to focus our energy on this problem. We know that the following causal factors crop up too often in accidents reports:
  • Bad decisions (like flying at night without recent experience)
  • Risk-taking behavior (goal orientation is needed to become a pilot but it also leads to risk-taking)
  • Over-confidence in pilot skills (the top three types of accidents are loss of control, IIMC, and low-altitude operations)
Fixing these factors will require a change in culture. Companies with strict policies and procedures have fewer accidents. They have a policy that tells the pilot what to do when they encounter bad weather. There are more people “in on” the decision process.

How do you get people to refrain from risk-taking? Two things work …

First, money talks! In the early days of Robinson Helicopters, the company paid the cost of the insurance for ferry flights to customers. There were way too many accidents, in part, Robinson executives believed, because the dealers had no "skin in the game." There was no direct connection between Robinson and their insurance carrier, and the ferry pilot.

When Robinson pushed the cost of the ferry flight insurance to the dealers, those dealers then used better pilots and did not do any training during the ferry flight. Since then there have been no accidents during delivery. The dealers now have incentive to ensure those flights are conducted safely.

Second, regulations actually work. We may complain about them (a lot!), but because no one wants to get sideways with the FAA, regulations set the baseline for operations at a safe level. The thing to remember with regulations is that they provide a floor, not a ceiling. You can (and should) aim higher.
Kurt Robinson gave the keynote speech at the USHST annual meeting, held at the Robinson Helicopter Company facilities in Torrance, California.

What’s Up With Occupant Protection?

Another great speaker at the USHST was Amanda Taylor of the FAA who gave an update on occupant protection in helicopters. Her talk was a reminder of the real work that goes into improving occupant safety. I captured only a bit of it below.—Stan Rose.

Amanda Taylor of the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City briefed USHST attendees on the work being done on occupant safety in helicopters. This includes crash-resistant fuel systems, helmets, seatbelts, and attenuating seats that absorb or reduce the energy of an accident’s impact.

CAMI is the medical certification, research, education, and occupational health wing of the FAA's Office of Aerospace Medicine. Its goal is to improve our understanding and management of human factors in flight so as to improve aviation safety. They look at the human element in the entire aviation community, from pilot to passenger to those working in businesses that support aviation.

Progress on building improved occupant safety systems in helicopters is going more slowly than anticipated. For one, CAMI researchers have found that the original method of determining standards for these systems, conducted using static testing, show serious flaws when compared to the results generated from dynamic testing. In other words, the original tests did not accurately reflect the complex dynamic of stresses and interactions that can take place during an accident. There is a current effort to improve the standards through a collaborative effort between civil operators, FAA engineers, and military testing.

Taylor said that it is hard to get good data on the efficacy of safety equipment because human volunteers are hard to find! The areas the researchers are concentrating on are:
  • Head protection – helmets; advocating for clutter-free head strike area in aircraft 
  • Thorax protect – shoulder harnesses
  • Pelvic and lumbar spine – lap belts.
Another issue in fleet adoption of these new standards is that helicopters are rebuilt rather than retired. The longevity of our aircraft means that, even after we establish new standards, it takes a very long time to get them implemented into the fleet. If we want safety technology to be adopted more quickly, we need to demonstrate that the new standards save lives so that consumers will want to upgrade their aircraft through STCs.

Lap Belts: When They Go Low, We Have Better Outcomes

Amanda Taylor of the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute told attendees that many folks are wearing lap belt seat restraints too high: lap belts should be positioned low, over the hips, not up at the waist.

When the force of an accident’s impact drives the body forward into the lap belt, the bones of the hips protect the organs of the pelvis and absorb the shock. When the lap belt is worn higher, above the hips, then during an accident the body is driven forward until the spine hits the lap belt, and the resulting injuries can be severe and life-changing.

This can happen with any type of seat belt and restraint. Pay particular attention when using a four-point restraint: we often put on the lap belt first and then we overtighten the shoulder harness. This puts additional pressure on the lap belt and lifts it higher on the body, higher than you intended.

This incorrect positioning of the lap belt could actually cause harm during the impact of an accident. Please pay attention, no matter what vehicle you’re in: Lap belts go Low—and help those around you to learn this safety habit, too.
Precision Flight Controls,Inc was busy demonstrating the Ryan flight simulator. This device features a VR display and motion actuators to create a very realistic flight environment--for about $40K.
Cliff Johnson presented information regarding the PEGASAS data collection project. This joint effort between the FAA, universities, and industry aims to collect data from operators that will then be analyzed to find the best places to focus our safety efforts.

Sep. 21: San Juan Regional Helicopter Safety Stand-Down
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Wayne Fry, USHST government co-chair; Scott Tyrrell, FAA accident investigator/safety specialist; Stan Rose, HSA HMFIC; Kurt Robinson, president and chairman of Robinson Helicopter Company; Tim Tucker, chief pilot for Robinson, and Nate Morrissey, FAASTeam program manager for the Long Beach, CA, FSDO.
Scott Tyrell of the FAA explains the USHST methodology for data collection.
Helicopter Safety Stand-Downs are held in conjunction with the FAASTeam and are eligible for WINGS and AMT credits!

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