Helicopter operations with the worst accident rates, including fatal accident rates, include commercial, aerial application, utilities/construction, and personal/private flying. That’s the recent conclusion of the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), which blamed the results on risk factors involving low-altitude operations, flight near wires, and a higher number of private helicopters with less experienced pilots.
The USHST made its conclusions after examining accident and flight-hour data from January 2009 to January 2018. During the period, U.S. civil helicopters flew more than 31 million flight hours and experienced 1,298 total accidents and 209 fatal accidents. Personal/private flying comprised just 3 percent of total hours flown yet contributed to 22 percent of all accidents and 25 percent of all fatal ones, while aerial application represented only 4 percent of the total hours flown yet accounted for 16 percent of total accidents and 10 percent of all fatal ones.
Utilities/construction made up just 2 percent of total flight hours and accounted for 4 percent of accidents and 9 percent of fatal ones. Operations with a heavy emphasis on professional, recurrent training seemed to fare better. Air ambulance accounted for 16 percent of total flight hours while comprising just 7 percent of total accidents and 13 percent of fatal ones, while offshore/oil represented 8 percent of total flight hours, yet contributed just 3 percent of total accidents and 4 percent of fatal ones.
The USHST notes that overall safety is improving; from 2012-2014 the average number of U.S. helicopter accidents was 146 and the fatal accident average was 25. That improved between 2015-2017 to an average number of accidents of 118, a decline of 19 percent, and 18 fatal accidents per year, a drop of 28 percent. The USHST has set a goal of reducing the fatal accident rate by 20 percent by 2020.