U.S. Helicopter Safety Team Initiatives Aim to Cut Down Fatal Helicopter Accidents

Dec. 4, 2019

The arrow is pointing in the right direction — downward. Over the past two decades, the U.S. helicopter fatal accident rate has been cut in half, from 1.27 fatal accidents per 100,000 flights to 0.63.

However, the industry has hit a plateau during 2018 and 2019.  Fatal accidents in the U.S. are continuing at approximately the same level.

2019                  95 non-fatal accidents                       21 fatal accidents        (Jan. thru Nov.)

2018                  98 non-fatal accidents                       24 fatal accidents

2017                103 non-fatal accidents                       20 fatal accidents

2016                  92 non-fatal accidents                       17 fatal accidents

2015                104 non-fatal accidents                       17 fatal accidents

2014                117 non-fatal accidents                       21 fatal accidents

2013                116 non-fatal accidents                       30 fatal accidents

To reduce the number of fatal accidents even more, the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (www.USHST.org) has been working diligently on developing safety enhancements based on the accidents we have analyzed. Many of the initiatives are now ready to be advanced forward.

  • During 2019, the USHST developed and promoted a white paper showing how UAS (drones) can supplement and support manned helicopters in high-risk operations and environments.
  • Last month, the team released two new airmanship bulletins on the Vortex Ring State and on Power Available Limitations.
  • We continue to provide face-to-face safety education and safety material distribution at industry events - most recently at the CHC Safety Summit in Dallas and at the National Agricultural Aviation Association convention in Orlando.
  • The USHST is ready to release a best practices document offering guidelines for preflight inspections and final walk-arounds.
  • A USHST team also is completing work on a proposed Advisory Circular regarding the use of simulation to rehearse at-risk scenarios and develop safe decision-making.
  • Another USHST team is completing research papers providing extensive safety information for pilots about enhanced vision systems and stability augmentation systems.
  • The USHST is collaborating with the GAJSC to promote their new reference tool for pilots about how impairment can be caused by certain over-the-counter medications.
  • In order to reinforce a culture of safety among pilots within the helicopter community, the USHST is working with the FAASTeam to present a nationwide series of “Go Local” workshops. The two-hour session dives deeply into one specific helicopter accident, discusses the tragedy of lost lives, and helps pilots see that many operational decisions are not black and white choices. Workshops have been hosted by FAASTeam managers in Phoenix and Fort Worth and we have FAASTeam commitments for 2020 in these 12 cities: Little Rock, Milwaukee, Memphis, Oakland, Salt Lake City, Baton Rouge, Denver, Houston, Columbia SC, Greensboro NC, Washington DC, and Portland, Ore.

Detailed information about proposed USHST safety enhancements aimed at reducing the number of fatal accidents can be found on the group’s web site. The enhancements are organized into five safety categories: Visibility and Loss of Control, Risk Management, Enhanced Training, Technology Support and Pilot Competency. Each year, the U.S. helicopter industry safely flies more than 3.2 million flight hours. Let’s work together to build on that safe record and eliminate the small number of accidents that do occur.