HAI President: USA Today GA Safety Article Flawed, Biased

Alexandria, Va. (June 18, 2014) – Recently, USA TODAY reporter Tom Franks conducted what he termed an investigative exposé on General Aviation safety headlined “Unfit to Fly.” Helicopter Association International President Matt Zuccaro responded as follows:

“What I read was a blatant one-sided attack which casts aspersions on an entire industry and intimated a disregard for safety, as well as collusion among aviation regulators, operators and manufacturers. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“Our highest priority is safety above all else. The fact is that when a safety concern is identified, helicopter manufacturers, operators and government agencies work together to correct the situation. Just recently, HAI, on behalf of its members, requested that the FAA issue new regulations to mandate that all helicopter operators conducting helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) be required to install and use night vision technology. Of note is the fact that over 90% of the HEMS operators have already installed such equipment on a volunteer basis because it is the right thing to do.

“In his article, Mr. Franks indicates that he spoke with the NTSB, which advised him that pilots either caused or contributed to the accidents in 86% of the events. Obviously Mr. Franks did not want to hear this as this fact does not comport with his desire to show that the accidents are caused by faulty manufacturing and design coupled with a lack of concern by the industry.

“So who does Mr. Franks turn to in dispute of the facts provided by the NTSB and industry? Aviation plaintiff attorneys who create their own version of what caused the accidents in their quest for monetary awards. Add to this formula well-meaning juries who do not have aviation knowledge or expertise, and you get the resultant monetary awards noted by Mr. Franks. This is no great revelation considering our current litigious society, and does not prove any causation of any aircraft accident.

“Call me crazy but I would tend to rely upon the internationally recognized experts at the NTSB as to what causes aircraft accidents rather than the proceeding litigation scenario.

“The other interesting investigative protocol that Mr. Franks had to utilize in his attempt to prove his point was to rely on historical accident reports and information going back over five decades — in one instance to an accident that occurred in 1966. There is not enough room in this document to state all of the technical, regulatory, and cultural changes that have occurred in the general aviation community over that time period.

“Finally, I will note that Franks cites concerns about the activities of the Robinson Helicopter Company. He would have you believe that Robinson Helicopter is devoid of any interest in safety. Nothing could be further from the truth with regard to the many safety initiatives that Robinson Helicopters as a company and their President Kurt Robinson is personally committed to. Robinson Helicopters, along with other aircraft manufacturers continue to commit resources and personnel to numerous industry wide safety programs. Kurt Robinson is an active working member of the Executive Committee of the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) of which I am the Co-Chairman. IHST is an international industry effort to eliminate accidents within the helicopter community. Over the last 6 years that the Team has been in existence data indicates that there has been a 30% reduction in international helicopter accident events. Let us also not forget that Kurt Robinson is a qualified helicopter pilot and personally flies the very aircraft he manufactures.

“The helicopter industry acknowledges that we are not where we want to be in terms of accident occurrences. However we are committed to an industry-wide "Zero tolerance/Zero accident" operating environment. Philosophically, I say one accident is one too many. Mr. Franks should realize that no one is more motivated to prevent accidents than those that fly, operate, maintain, or manufacture the aircraft for a very self-serving reason; our families and we are in the aircraft during flight on a routine basis.

“The helicopter industry, in conjunction with the FAA, is preparing to undertake a review and re-write of helicopter certification standards in order to take advantage of new technology and safety equipment. As an industry, we are committed to enhancing safety and learning from mistakes, so we are proud to work with the FAA and the NTSB, and learn from their investigations. Through better design, better training, better certification, and cultural change we can, we will, and we are improving safety.

“Unfortunately Mr. Franks’ article made no good-faith effort to either tell the entire story or acknowledge the advances in safety that the general aviation industry has made and continues to make. Shame on him.

“To Mr. Franks I say, take comfort that helicopters will continue to serve the community and you by providing such critical commercial services as medical transport, law enforcement, and firefighting, as well as conducting private general aviation operations in a safe and professional manner.”

Helicopter Association International is a professional trade association representing some 3,900 members around the globe in more than 78 nations. HAI's members safely operate more than 5,500 helicopters approximately 2.5 million hours each year. HAI is dedicated to the promotion of the helicopter as a safe, effective method of commerce, and to the advancement of the international helicopter community.