HAI Looks To Reboot Safety Accreditation Program

 - September 14, 2020, 4:15 PM

The Helicopter Association International (HAI) is looking to reboot its Accreditation Program of Safety (APS) later this year, HAI president James Viola told AIN. APS is based on two sets of performance standards: the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) and the HAI-APS Helicopter Mission Specific Standards (HMSS). HAI developed the latter standards to address safety for specific missions flown by helicopter operators.

Viola and HAI senior staff agreed that the APS's past close coupling with the IS-BAO standards, which are geared toward fixed-wing operators, had discouraged wider participation in the program. Begun in 2016, APS has drawn limited industry interest to date with only a half-dozen organizations presently holding current accreditation and three auditors supporting the program. 

Viola, who came to HAI in January from the FAA, said he initially considered dropping APS as a cost-saving measure. After consulting helicopter operators and upon further examination, he saw the enormous value the program could have if it were made more relevant to helicopter operators. “Cost of insurance is the number-one concern when it comes to operating a [helicopter] business," he said. "If there are operators who aren’t good operators, who just do the bare minimum, the insurance companies will help” to identify them by canceling coverage or raising their rates.

“The APS will help identify risk” and good operators, he said. “You need to have a safety level higher than the government requirement, to operate as safely as you can at all times to be accredited [under APS]. If you do flight data management and everything else you can do to stop an accident from occurring, then you are certainly operating at a higher level than the regulations, and that is what we want to do [with APS].”

But since its inception, APS has been less than a roaring success, not even gleaning support of some companies represented on HAI’s board. “I have board members who don’t use APS,” Viola acknowledged. 

A key component of APS is its incorporation of the IS-BAO audit architecture as a foundation, and that made APS overly complex and has proven a barrier in attracting small and medium companies to the APS program, HAI senior director, operations and international affairs Chris Martino acknowledges. That is going to change in “APS 2.0,” he said. “IS-BAO will not be the minimum foundation requirement, but it might be contained in a suite of add-on options.”

HAI director of safety Chris Hill finds parallels between APS using IS-BAO as a foundation and an audit of safety programs he participated in while in the U.S. Coast Guard. The USCG, said Hill, “went through some significant overhauls of audits and processes. They found that they were so cumbersome that they were actually increasing risk in the fleet because people spent so much time preparing for, and completing and assessing, their operations that they really weren’t making smart risk-based decisions.”

After an overhaul of the audit process, the USCG was able to drop certain audit overhead and line items “that were just fluff” and accounted for 70 to 80 percent of the audits. “We can’t say that we will meet those same types of numbers but that is the concept we are shooting for, to get rid of the time-consuming fluff and focus heavily on risk-based [safety management systems] and the things that really matter, that can get people hurt.” Hill said HAI had already received “a fair amount of feedback from previous operators and the auditors themselves. They will be a key feature of this revamp.” 

The IS-BAO standard can be cumbersome to apply to helicopter operations, Hill acknowledged. “The barriers to entry to small and midsize operators is to have the IS-BAO standard as your entry requirement. It was never developed from the ground up to be accommodative or responsive to your typical rotary-wing operation. That is probably the biggest objection we encounter with the [APS] program” as currently constituted.  

Hill is quick to emphasize that HAI is not denigrating IS-BAO. “Operators that want to get that certification added on should go ahead. But everything is being looked at, and whether the solution set has one, two, or three options has yet to be determined. We already have a fair amount of feedback from previous operators and the auditors themselves, and they will be a key feature of this revamp.” 

Martino said that for “APS 2.0” to be successful, it must be well publicized and offer a compelling value proposition. “It has to be something that provides clear value. The helicopter operator has to say, ‘I can’t afford not to do that.’ The industry has to look at it and has to see there is no reason not to participate, that the value is unquestionable, bringing best practices and higher levels of safety.” 

The focus has to be the small and medium operator, Hill said. “We do not think large operators would be interested in the program because they already have fairly robust oversight by their clients and other entities that are stakeholders in their operations.” HAI’s own board will be a key focus group for APS 2.0. “We have to make some changes to motivate our own board and all our own working group members to participate in the program. That is going to be one of our top priorities is to get the board and our safety group members behind APS 2.0 and absolutely recommend it to their organizations. Anything short of that and we really need to go back to the drawing board and make some changes.” 

Viola said the program will benefit all operators but could provide substantial savings to Part 141 helicopter flight schools if the FAA accepts the new APS 2.0 standard. If the FAA approves APS 2.0, it could conceivably be used as a standard to streamline the approval process of Part 141 schools, thereby saving them months of delay and enormous concurrent costs as they await an FAA audit before opening.

With a valid APS, schools could open/continue operations and the FAA and TSA could confine their routine oversight to auditing the APS audit as time permitted. “When you talk to FAA employees, they really don’t want to be auditors, they want to come out and do the [actual] safety work,” said Viola, who last served there as manager of the general aviation and commercial division. “There is room for HAI to be the middle man, especially with the NTSB picking on the FAA for trying to do too much and being spread too thin. That is my vision.”