The number of helicopter accidents and fatal helicopter accidents in 2016 declined by 17 percent year-over-year, according to raw data from 50 countries compiled by the International Helicopter Safety Team and released yesterday at Heli-Expo. Last year, the industry experienced 254 accidents, including 52 that were fatal. This was down from 306 accidents, 63 of them resulting in fatalities in 2015.
“Of course some of this decrease is because, in some places, they aren’t flying as much,” noted Tony Molinaro, a public affairs officer with the FAA, who has been with the program for much of its 12-year existence. “We realize that, so we don’t want to say everything’s down because everything is much safer.” Yet comparing the data from previous years, from 2013 to 2016, total accidents decreased by 29 percent, and fatal occurrences declined by 31 percent among those countries. “We think there truly is an outstanding culture of safety within the helicopter community,” Molinaro told the audience. “Over the last five years or so, there has been a great push forward around the world in the safety of helicopter operations, and we’re seeing more increased cooperation between the government and industry.”
More refined data from the United States Helicopter Safety Team shows that the U.S. civil helicopter accident rate declined from 3.67 accidents per 100,000 flight hours in 2015 to 3.19 accidents per 100,000 flight hours last year. Yet, the number of fatal accidents in the U.S. remained nearly static at 17 in both years, or approximately 0.51 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. This has led the organization to concentrate its efforts on examining those incidents. “They’ve noticed the causes of fatal accidents are different than the causes of every [other] type of accident,” noted Molinaro. “When you look at total accidents, a lot of them happen in the training area. A lot of that drops away when you talk about fatal accidents, because a there aren't a lot of fatalities happening in the training area.”
Based on its prior analysis of accidents, the group has categorized a large portion of accidents into three areas: in-flight loss of control, unintended flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and low-altitude operations. The group is currently examining each accident over the past year to determine the root causes. Currently prevailing themes are: issues with performance planning; issues with weight and balance; pilot instrument-flying proficiency; need for improved weather reporting; and fatigue management. Once the group finishes its analysis later this spring, it will begin developing safety enhancements aimed at mitigating those accidents.