A marked upshift in the U.S. fatal helicopter rate in recent months has prompted at least one member of the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) to advocate for incorporating the safety tools generated by the organization into initial and recurrent helicopter pilot training. Embry-Riddle associate professor Scott Burgess, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot and current rotorcraft CFI, told a forum audience this morning at EAA Airventure that “We in the industry have to do our part to educate those who come behind us. We have to implement these things [safety tools] in training early on. It is important for flight schools in particular.”
Burgess said this will require a cultural shift when it comes to primary helicopter flight training as currently conducted. “We find ourselves so restricted timewise in the training room that we just cover what is required by the FAA,” he said, but clearly more is required. “Ab initio training is where we create that mindset for the new pilot that safety is important and [the pilot] needs to pay attention to this. Showing...statistics is a hell of a lot better than showing...a pool of blood.”
Safety tools that are easily integrated into a training program get students “chewing on that steak” and make it more likely that they will “carry that lesson forward,” Burgess said. He added that it was also important to incorporate safety tools into recurrent training for experienced, older pilots who need to be told to “use these resources” and given “more guided instruction.”
Ultimately, Burgess said that peer performance groups like the USHST can “put a bandage on a lot of things but we are not going to plug the whole dam.” In the wake of a rash of fatal accidents in the last 12 months, the organization’s goal of reducing fatal accidents from 0.76 to 0.61 per 100,000 flight hours seems largely illusionary. After dropping to a rate of 0.54 in 2016, the fatal accident rate rose to 0.72 last year and is poised to go even higher in 2019.
But Burgess said that is not dissuading the organization from developing additional safety tools and safety enhancements based on its analysis of accident data. “Helicopter safety enhancements are the actions behind pursuing a higher safety rate, “ he said. “We just need to keep our heads down and keep plugging.” The next meeting of the USHST will be held August 14-15 at Robinson Helicopter in Torrance, California.