HAI began more than 70 years ago to promote and advocate for the young but burgeoning helicopter industry. While HAI continues that role today, the group also makes a significant and robust contribution to safety programs for our industry. With the goal of reducing accidents and saving lives, HAI’s safety programs address culture and systems for people, airframes, and technology.

Helicopter pilots who continue VFR flight into IMC will very likely be dead within a median of 56 seconds; learn more at ushst/56secs.

“Over the past six months, with key stakeholders, HAI has completed a top-to-bottom review of our safety programs,” says James Viola, president and CEO of HAI. “We’ve strengthened our collaboration with industry partners and refocused our safety efforts on providing tangible resources for the helicopter community, including those targeted at helping pilots avoid or recover from IIMC, one of the leading causes of the Jan. 26, 2020, Calabasas, California, accident.

“With human performance issues as a causal factor in the majority of aviation accidents, HAI believes the best way to improve safety in our industry is by helping people become safer pilots, maintenance technicians, operators, and aviation professionals,” Viola continues.

“We believe we can lower the industry accident rate significantly by addressing human factors,” Viola adds. “HAI continues to promote a 360-degree approach to reducing accidents, one that addresses culture, processes, and training, and the appropriate use of technology to reduce aviation risk.”

Previously addressed as a holistic approach, the 360-degree approach uses language familiar to pilots and encourages them to use every resource they have available.

“A pilot’s approach to safety shouldn’t mean they take the fastest, easiest method of assessing the risk of a flight,” says Viola. “Most pilots have years of training to rely on, developing their own safety culture along the way. When they combine knowledge and awareness from those two elements, along with the appropriate use of technology, they’re taking a 360-degree approach to safety.”

HAI’s safety program contains a variety of resources and tools to help pilots strengthen their safety culture and provide assistance and training where needed. These program elements include the following:

56 Seconds to Live

HAI is proud to support the recent release of 56 Seconds to Live. This video, produced by the US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), portrays a fictional pilot’s rapid loss of control over his aircraft after attempting to continue VFR flight into IMC. Helicopter safety experts say the film doesn’t exaggerate the dangers of UIMC.

The video is a core element of a training program that will be available in the coming months. That program will examine various points in the video where the pilot could have made a different decision, resulting in a different outcome for the flight.


Flight Risk Assessment Tool (FRAT): HAI has partnered with a commercial provider, NGFT Solutions, to expand the scope and accessibility of its legacy FRAT program into an expansive suite of free, customizable safety tools optimized for mobile and offline use. A transition to the new application is planned for later this year.

Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP): A robust hazard reporting program is considered essential to improving safety, and small helicopter operators with limited resources sometimes struggle to field these programs. In response, HAI has partnered with the Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) to provide HAI members with an Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) that provides third-party support for the reporting of aviation hazards and events (see p. 38 to learn more).

A Lifetime of Training

Because most accidents involve human error, improving safety in the helicopter industry often focuses on training. “We must continue to address safety training through every opportunity, including recurrent training,” Viola says. “That training must address every aspect of a pilot’s performance, from training for specific aircraft and procedures to learning better aeronautical decision-making processes.

“For pilots, the development of a personal safety culture must begin on the first day of flight school and then never stop. Each flight is another test of our commitment to fly safely, which is our highest duty,” Viola continues.

“Aviation operations, too, must build a robust safety culture where each person is empowered and encouraged by management to take personal responsibility in improving operational safety by following policies and procedures and reporting identified hazards.”

Safety Management Systems

HAI strongly recommends that all aviation operations adopt a safety management system (SMS), a practice endorsed by aviation regulators and safety organizations around the world as the best way to systematically manage aviation risk. An SMS addresses safety culture and also incorporates an ongoing process to address identified hazards, manage risk, and improve the organization’s safety performance.

Flight Data Monitoring Programs

HAI supports the establishment of a flight data monitoring (FDM) program by helicopter operators conducting paying-passenger aviation activities, as that data can be used to reduce accidents and improve safety across that industry sector. However, the association doesn’t recommend mandating specific equipment across all missions and platforms.

Additional Information

“Anyone who wants to know more about improving operational safety should visit the safety section on rotor.org, our website,” says Viola.


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