High Visibility on Helicopter Safety – What’s All the Buzz?

By Mark Rosekind

Romantic and evocative images of helicopter culture aside, I’m glad to report that from a safety perspective, the rotocraft industry and its operators are making great progress.

Changing safety culture doesn’t happen overnight or in a vacuum. It takes time, effort, and a lot of nurturing. This underscores the NTSB’s role in making important connections with industry to raise the bar in preventing accidents and saving lives…before a tragic event happens.

Helicopter Association International’s HELI-EXPO hosted over 18,000 attendees and provided access to the largest cross-section of the helicopter industry. Last Saturday morning, over 350 people attended the Safety Symposium and my presentation on combating helicopter operator fatigue – the first time this topic has been featured in that forum. It covered the risks associated with flying tired, recent helicopter accidents in which fatigue was a factor, and the NTSB’s safety recommendations that came out of fatigue-related investigations. After 20 years on the NTSB’s Most Wanted list, there’s a lot of information on fatigue to cover. Noise, vibration, and the culture of single-pilot, off-hour, on-demand operations, create specialized risks in helicopters. Fatigue can degrade every aspect of human capability, increasing safety risks in flight operations and making the use of effective strategies critical. The value of bringing this information right to the people who need to hear it cannot be underestimated. On behalf of the NTSB, I urged helicopter operators to adopt personal and industry safety strategies that could lead to one overarching goal…zero accidents.

Member Mark Rosekind

The Helicopter Tour Operators Committee also invited me to speak to them the following day and it provided the opportunity to highlight some of the NTSB’s key themes along with a warmly received invitation for tour operators to come talk to us and interact more with the agency. Any opportunity for increased dialogue will reap big dividends for everyone.

The bottom line is that we want to see all transportation modes taking safety actions well before the NTSB has to investigate an accident and make recommendations. With Chairman Hersman’s keynote at HELI-EXPO, the NTSB’s exhibit on the EXPO floor, and my presentations, we are eagerly extending a helping hand to the rotocraft industry to support efforts to change its safety culture from the inside. Though more needs to be done in achieving the ultimate goal of zero accidents, fully embracing useful technologies, and truly accomplishing change throughout the industry, what we’ve seen so far amounts to real progress.

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D. was sworn in as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

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