By Christopher A. Hart
As a fixed-wing pilot, I am fascinated by the similarities and differences regarding the challenges and issues faced by fixed-wing pilots and helicopter pilots. That’s why I thoroughly enjoyed introducing the session yesterday entitled NTSB: Lessons Learned from Helicopter Accidents at the 2014 Heli-Expo in Anaheim. In this session, NTSB Air Safety Investigators presented findings, conclusions, and recommendations – based upon several helicopter accidents – regarding the need for improved helicopter maintenance and maintenance inspection procedures; the importance of better pilot training, especially regarding autorotation procedures; and the importance of flight data recorders in helicopters, not only for improving safety in general but also for enhancing our ability as investigators to determine the causes of crashes. The panels included industry experts who shared their own thoughts and experiences regarding these issues.
Immediately after the Lessons Learned session, I also had the opportunity to participate in HAI’s launch of its Land & LIVE project. Every pilot expects to land safely at his or her final destination, but when, for whatever reason, reaching the final destination becomes questionable, helicopter pilots have many more opportunities than fixed-wing pilots to land safely, short of their destination. Land & LIVE will hopefully encourage the industry to consider it not only acceptable, but desirable, to make a precautionary landing in order to avoid the possibility of a tragic outcome – both for those on the helicopter and for those on the ground. I am optimistic that this common-sense approach to in-flight problems can improve helicopter safety by reducing the widespread reluctance to make precautionary landings.
Helicopter safety has improved over the years, through the combined efforts of many in the industry, but our Lessons Learned session demonstrated that more needs to be done to continue improving safety in this very important and very unique industry.
For more information on the NTSB’s efforts to Address the Unique Characteristics of Helicopter Operations, please visit our website: www.ntsb.gov.