IHST continues the fight
Copyright : Frédéric Vergnères
By : François Blanc
Ten years after its creation, the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) has just published a realistic assessment of its work. While the organization has not yet reached the goal it set out at its founding—an 80% reduction in the number of accidents worldwide—it has succeeded in launching a vast movement for positive change, which is well on its way to make a big difference.
MONTREAL, SEPTEMBER 2005. THE FIRST INTERNATIONALHELICOPTER SAFETY SYMPOSIUM(IHSS) TOOK PLACE ON THE JOINT INITIATIVE OF THE AMERICAN HELICOPTER SOCIETY (AHS) AND HELICOPTER ASSOCIATION INTERNATIONAL (HAI). THIRTEEN COUNTRIES FROM FIVE CONTINENTS WERE REPRESENTED. PARTICIPANTS INCLUDED: OPERATORS, MANUFACTURERS, MAINTENANCE COMPANIES, GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES, INVESTIGATORS SPECIALIZED IN AVIATION ACCIDENTS, AND PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS. THEY ALL ANSWERED THE CALL TO PARTICIPATE BECAUSE THEY WERE ALL CONCERNED ABOUT A DISTURBING STATISTIC: THE NUMBER OF CIVIL HELICOPTER ACCIDENTS WORLDWIDE WAS STEADILY INCREASING. THEY COMMITTED TO DEVELOPING AND ROLLING OUT EFFICIENT MEANS TO REVERSE THE TREND AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. A FEW MONTHS LATER, ONCE AGAIN AT THE INSISTENCE OF THE AHS, HAI AND THE FIRST SYMPOSIUM PARTICIPANTS, AND WITH THE SUPPORT OF THE U.S.’S POWERFUL FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA), THE INTERNATIONAL HELICOPTER SAFETY TEAM (IHST) WAS BORN. ITS MISSION: AN 80% REDUCTION IN THE NUMBER OF HELICOPTER ACCIDENTS WORLDWIDE IN 10 YEARS. THE PARTICULARLY AMBITIOUS GOAL TESTIFIED TO THE EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM AND THE URGENCY OF FIXING IT.
A 30% reduction in accidents over five years
From the start, the IHST relied on statistics to demonstrate the importance and effectiveness of its actions. From 2001 to 2005, the organization worked on raising awareness about the alarming rate of 9.4 accidents for 100,000 flight hours. From 2006, it aimed to drop beneath the symbolic number of two accidents per 100,000 flight hours with a target of 1.9. At the 2011 Symposium, halfway through the decade set out by the IHST as the first reference period (2006-2016), the organization presented statistics that showed that the groups with greatest room for improvement were general aviation (non-commercial) pilots, trainee pilots, and small operator pilots more generally. Indeed, the accident rate in these segments was higher than that recorded for emergency medical transportation, surveillance and safety missions, and tourism flights. By this time, the IHST had already developed safety tools and was doing its best to roll them out worldwide with the help of its partners. The tools included, in particular, awareness-raising and educational videos targeting all of the different audiences within the helicopter world. In 2011-2012, the number of accidents decreased by 30% compared with 2001-2005 figures. “A big step in the right direction,” as the IHST put it, even though the statistics at the time meant that “a helicopter accident [took] place every day.” Moreover, the 91 accidents recorded in 2010 resulted in 222 deaths. Unfortunately, the improvements made—though notable—would never result in the 80% decrease target the organization had been aiming for since 2006. Faced with the figures, the IHST then decided it needed new, more persuasive communications tools. It also made an important statement: “Government authorities have to be part of the effort, but they can’t do it all. Regulations are not the answer.”
Europe revamps its initiatives
On October 11, 2016, at a conference held in the Helitech International salon, it was announced that, among other repercussions of this restructuring, the EHEST will make way for a new entity: the Rotorcraft Sectorial Committee (RSC). The new name is accompanied by real substantive changes. Michel Masson, EASA Safety Promotion Coordinator, explains nonetheless that, “all of the risk management systems piloted by EASA are taking a new tack. The principle behind the new approach is simple: we have several different means at our disposal to manage safety and reduce the number of accidents. Regulation is one; airworthiness certification and maintenance of aircraft is another. The standardization and implementation of regulations are also part of it, whether we’re talking about supervision of national authorities or manufacturers— for the former, we talk about a two-way system, since the Agency oversees nationalauthorities, which in turn oversee the Agency through the Managing Board. It’s all about checks and balances. There is also one last tool, which we call safety promotion. Until very recently, the effectiveness of this tool has been based on non-regulatory means, which are well-liked and appreciated, but which don’t enjoy any official recognition.” Moreover, players were under no obligation to adhere to safety promotion standards, since it was purely voluntary, through the ESSI. The new organization, which was coming together at the time of publication, will make safety promotion an integral part of the new system, alongside the EASA’s regulatory and airworthiness certification work. What was formerly known as the Rulemaking Advisory Group (RAG) will now be called the Member States Advisory Body (MAB). The MAB’s counterpart for manufacturers will be known as Stakeholders Advisory Body (SAB). These committees also contain sub-committees, organized by area of specialization. The RSC will be one of them. “This committee devoted to helicopter safety will now be working in an official, legally binding capacity. It will take on many of the roles and functions described in article 3 of the EASA Management Board’s* decision 2015-2020,” explains Masson.
A GLOBAL EFFORT
The RSC will inherit all of the EHEST’s responsibilities and tasks, in addition to new prerogatives like regulatory recommendations, standardization and international harmonization work— in particular with the U.S.’s FAA, Transport Canada and authorities from other countries in key regions. “The RSC will also support the EASA’s initiatives in terms of safety analyses and economic impact studies,” adds a senior coordinator. To know exactly who will be part of the RSC, we will probably have to wait until the very end of January 2017. Logically, the European Helicopter Association (EHA) as well as industry representatives (manufacturers, parts manufacturers and operators) will be part of the Committee. The first official meeting will take place January 25-26, 2017 at the EASA headquarters in Cologne, Germany. Following this revamp, the IHST’s European partner should be at least as active as before, but more importantly, it should benefit from increased resources, which will allow it to be a real driving force, alongside its American counterpart, which has recently adopted a new name: The United States Helicopter Safety Team (USHST)—a change that underscores the important role each partner committed to the program has to play. Today around forty countries contribute to the overall IHST effort. Following in the footsteps of the United States, Canada, Europe, Brazil, India, Japan and the Middle East, other regions and countries, including Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and South America are now intensifying their efforts. A reassuring sign, since it is clear that striving towards zero accidents—the IHST’s new communications focus—will demand participation from all of the helicopter world’s major players.
HELICOPTER ACCIDENTS WORLDWIDE