Annual U.S. turbine helicopter accidents for singles and twins dropped slightly last year, a reflection of an improving safety picture combined with steady, or possibly slightly declining, usage rates compared with 2005. Those were the preliminary opinions of noted business aviation safety expert Bob Breiling of Robert E. Breiling and Associates. “I’m guessing it’s a lower utilization rate resulting from higher fuel prices,” Breiling told HAI Convention News. “Of course, we will need to take a closer look at more detailed data when it becomes available.”
Breiling also pointed to insurer safety programs such as USAIG’s “Safety Bucks” as an ongoing factor that improves safety rates. “I’m sure that helps,” he said.
Breiling released his 2006 turbine helicopter accident analysis last month. It shows accidents for twin-turbine helicopters falling to 15 from 17, fatal accidents decreasing to two from four and fatalities dropping to four from eight, compared with 2005 levels. In the single-turbine market, accidents dropped to 65 from 71, fatal accidents to eight from 13 and fatalities to 14 from 24.
While accidents decreased overall, several categories of single-engine operations showed increases, according to Breiling. Accidents for single-engine EMS operations jumped to five from three and photo-TV/survey accidents climbed to six from three.
Pilot error continues to be the leading accident cause, contributing to 68.8 percent of twin and 49.3 percent of single-engine crashes. However, maintenance and mechanical issues remain a significant contributing factor in the crashes of single-engine helicopters, accounting for 40.6 percent of crashes as opposed to 25 percent in twins.
Engine malfunction continues to be the leading cause of mechanical failures in single-engine ships, according to Breiling. Of the 28 single-engine crashes attributed to mechanical failure in 2006, 16 were engine related, three were tied to tail rotors and nine were related to “other” malfunctions. Breiling said he suspects that most engine-related crashes among singles can find their roots in engine over-temping.