Accidents declined only slightly last year

 - February 18, 2008, 4:21 AM

Despite a strong push for better safety by HAI through a series of training and awareness programs, total helicopter accidents in the U.S. declined only slightly last year from 80 in 2006 to 78 in 2007, while the total number of fatal accidents increased. Fatalities and off-shore accidents also increased, according to a summary of accidents released by Boca Raton, Fla.-based aviation safety analyst Robert E. Breiling Associates.

According to the preliminary data, there were 12 fatal accidents last year, compared with 10 in 2006. Fatalities also increased, from 18 in 2006 to 21 last year. Furthermore, single-turbine accidents increased to 69 from 65 the year before, while twin-turbine accidents decreased from 15 in 2006 to nine last year. Breiling added that off-shore accidents increased by three.

HAI president Matthew Zuccaro said the decrease in the total number of accidents, while small, is evidence of an increased awareness of safety among operators, manufacturers, clients and the industry as a whole. “I think the entire industry, collectively, has made safety their number-one focus and priority,” he said. “They’ve made a concentrated effort to raise the bar.” He also credited operators for applying safety to day-to-day operations and decisions.

He added that operators also need to continue to focus on safety measures within their own operations. HAI, for example, has implemented the Platinum Program, which recognizes operators who are committed “to a higher standard of safety through the adoption of the industry’s best practices.” The association also recognizes the safe operation of helicopters with the Operator and Pilot Safety Awards, and it offers educational courses and two-day safety classes and forums.

Steve Hickok, chairman of the HAI Flight Ops Committee and president of Orange Beach, Ala.-based Hickok & Associates, developers of airspace and instrument approaches, did not comment on the specific accidents cited in Breiling’s accident summary, but he did say that many helicopter accidents are a result of a lack of IFR infrastructure for helicopter operations. “EMS and corporate helicopters don’t crash flying IFR en route,” Hickok said. “Pilots crash attempting to complete missions in marginal VFR in areas that have no IFR capability.”

Zuccaro said it’s not entirely fair to make a blanket statement that flying IFR is going to cut accidents, but he conceded that “the practical application of IFR in the field has benefits.” He also pointed to implementation of ADS-B capability in the Gulf of Mexico as a way to reduce off-shore accidents. The initiative seeks to provide enhanced communication capabilities, as well as aircraft surveillance to ATC.