Heliport design survey aimed at addressing safety concerns

 - March 30, 2009, 6:23 AM

You can’t find a solution until you’ve defined the problem. That’s the motivation behind a survey launched by Raymond A. Syms Associates intended to pull together heliport general information and create a database that will help improve heliport safety.

According to company principal Raymond Syms, information gleaned from the survey will also serve as an educational tool to introduce heliport operators and users to basic heliport safety standards, regulations and guidelines.

“There is such a vast range of heliport designs out there, despite regulations and recommendations for a standard,” said Syms. “Now, in light of the rooftop heliport accident in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last May, we felt it was imperative to gather statistical information not only about the design of the nation’s heliports, but also [about] the operators’ understanding of safety hazards and requirements.”

The Grand Rapids accident occurred during an FAA Part 135 flight check ride. According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, the Aero Med Spectrum Health Sikorsky S-76A had landed and was taking off again at the Spectrum Health hospital helipad with the pilot and FAA inspector aboard when the tail rotor struck a radio tower. The helicopter crashed on the hospital roof and both the pilot and inspector escaped unharmed, but the aircraft was destroyed in the ensuing fire.

Results of the Long Branch, N.J.-based firm’s survey are due out sometime next month, “minus any reference to specific people or locations.” It will be distributed at no charge to the FAA’s heliport design and operations team, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and any other government or private aviation entity that seeks the survey results.

Syms is a senior member of the NFPA 418 Standards for Heliports Committee. He has also been a research contractor to the FAA and is a long-time member of the FAA/Industry Heliport Working Group that assisted the FAA in producing two past editions of the FAA Heliport Design Advisory Circulars.

The survey form is available online at www.raysyms.com/survey. For additional information, contact Ray Syms via e-mail at ray@raysyms.com.