One accident is one too many.
The only acceptable accident rate is zero. I refuse to accept some of the counterarguments I hear, such as “accidents are a statistical certainty when humans engage in any activity, especially when machinery is involved.” Another favorite axiom recommends staying on the ground as the “only” way to avoid accidents. According to that logic, none of us should get out of bed—ever.
Some say that every time you take off, you are at risk of an accident. I prefer to say that every time you take off, you must now mitigate the risks associated with that flight. These statements may look like the same thing, but my version empowers the stakeholders to manage that risk, on our way to achieving a goal of zero accidents.
Aviation does come with inherent risk. Yet each time we drill down to the root causes of an accident, it turns out that the aircraft are generally reliable, the infrastructure is adequate, and regulations provide a good foundation of operating protocols. The dominant causal factor for more than 80% of aviation accidents is the humans involved and their poor aeronautical decision-making and risk assessment.
Another major issue is the utilization of different decision-making and risk-assessment protocols, depending on the urgency of the mission being performed. The purpose of the flight being requested should not be considered in your risk assessment for that flight. Either you can safely fly the flight, in that aircraft, in those conditions—or you can’t.
Am I flying a sick child to a hospital? Does my CEO need to get to a meeting to close a deal? Will more homes burn if I don’t take off? It doesn’t matter. Thinking about these questions may prompt you to take more risks than you normally would. Pilots should be insulated from any facts about the mission that may influence their assessment of the risks posed by the flight.
The same logic applies to general aviation (GA) flights, either business or recreation. In many GA accidents, pilots either exceed their limitations or the aircrafts’. The truly sad part is that on these flights, the pilot’s passengers are often his or her family. You would think that with the most precious people in their lives on board, pilots would be very conservative in taking risks.
The way to achieve zero accidents is to adopt a culture of putting safety first. Place the safe completion of each flight above everything else, every day, even when it is inconvenient, even when you are rushed for time, even if it means canceling the flight.
This safety philosophy starts at the top. Executive management must distribute a statement to all staff clearly expressing support for the adoption of a safety-first culture by all field personnel. Company policies and procedures must then support employees who make the tough decisions that prioritize safety above any other consideration.
Another valuable tool in your efforts to reach zero accidents is the Land & LIVE initiative (LandandLive.rotor.org). It’s free to use. To prevent an accident, you just need to do what we do best: when flight conditions are deteriorating, fuel is low, or maintenance issues arise, land the damn helicopter!
Zero accidents is still the goal, and we will achieve this goal. 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!