A safer industry will also be a more sustainable one.
Let’s slow down, take a breath, and reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly about safety in the helicopter industry.
The good is our continuing efforts to improve industry safety. Although we are not where we want to be—zero accidents will always be my goal—the helicopter industry has committed the most resources and funding to date in our quest to achieve that goal.
Overall, accidents and fatalities in the international helicopter community are trending downward. Programs such as Land & LIVE—or, as I like to say it, “Land the damn helicopter!”—have been embraced by the industry and regulatory agencies worldwide as a significant tool in preventing accidents. We are turning away from proscriptive safety (“Thou shalt not …”) to focusing on tools that equip us to manage the risks inherent in aviation.
Next, let’s look at the bad. Although our safety record is heading in the right direction, we continue to experience a number of high-profile accidents. The causal factors for most accidents haven’t changed—it’s most often us, not our machines, who cause the accidents, usually by doing a bad job of assessing the risks involved in a flight and then making poor decisions when faced with hazardous conditions.
The way forward—away from the bad and into the good—is our effort to change the safety culture in our industry. For us to reach zero accidents, we must place safety first, above all other considerations. This attitude must be applied to our risk assessment and decision-making for each flight we conduct, whether it’s commercial or private, a complex mission to an unimproved site or the same simple circuit you’ve already flown five times that day.
Now for the ugly: our failure to establish a robust safety culture is well documented, and its consequences—injuries, deaths, and shattered families—are appalling. And the world is watching. Each crash strengthens the perception that our operations pose a danger to the public.
This is not true. Not only do we transport millions of passengers safely and professionally, our industry is often called upon to save lives. When people are in danger from fires and floods, when they are lost or injured in an accident, when they need help, they turn to us. And we are there for them.
The helicopter industry delivers vital services, safely and professionally. Our operations contribute substantially to local economies. However, for others to see us as a safe form of transport, we must stop having accidents.
The cost of not doing so could be the end of our industry. In light of recent high-profile accidents, legislative and regulatory initiatives have been proposed that would prohibit access to critical airspace, restrict or close essential heliports, and further limit helicopter operations.
If we do not actually practice our safety culture every day—if we fail to prioritize safety for every flight—we do so at our own peril. In addition to risking our own lives and those of our co-workers and passengers, we risk the survival of our industry. And to me, a world with no helicopters in it would be very ugly indeed.
That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, fly safe, fly neighborly—and keep those rotors turning!