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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Safety Update: The Next Steps Toward Safer Ops

James T. McKenna

EFFORTS TO BOOST THE SAFETY OF HELICOPTER OPERATIONS get the spotlight in the South Pacific this month during a gathering of regional and international industry leaders in Australia.

Meanwhile in the United States, a forum to discuss safety challenges and solutions is taking off in Dallas. Among its many activities, that event is providing a stage for firefighting operators to ponder the best way to collectively meet their safety challenges.

The International Helicopter Safety Team is convening its second regional conference this month in Melbourne, Australia. The first regional conference was held in June 2006 in New Delhi, India and sponsored by The Rotary Wing Society of India.

The International Helicopter Safety Team is carrying its message to the South Pacific, while fire operators in the U.S. are finding their voice in safety discussions.

The South Pacific event was organized by members of the American Helicopter Society International’s Australian Chapter, including Rotor & Wing Pacific Rim Correspondent Barney O’Shea. It is slated for March 20-21 and will be held in conjunction with the 12th Australian Aerospace Congress and the Australian International Air Show.

Delegates are expected from throughout the region, including Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

The conference will include presentations on the International Helicopter Safety Team, which was formed in 2005 with the goal of reducing helicopter accidents by 80 percent in 10 years. Among those presentations will be a briefing on that group’s Joint Helicopter Safety Analysis Team (JHSAT), whose members spent over a year dissecting 195 helicopter accidents in the database of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. The purpose of that analysis was to identify the most common causal factors in helicopter accidents, then assess the best means of mitigating them and preventing future accidents. The second phase of that effort is just getting under way.

The International Helicopter Safety Team is looking to set up a South Pacific regional safety team, with a helicopter safety implementation sub-group, to coordinate with the main international teams. "Ideally, the region will start its own JHSAT activities as well, in coordination with the main JHSAT," said Bob Sheffield, managing director of Shell Aircraft Ltd and a founding member of the international team.

Other discussion topics at the conference include reviews of helicopter accidents in mountain-rescue operations, the introduction of night-vision imaging systems in civil helicopter operations in Australia, and aspects of rotorcraft training in Australia. A session on reducing helicopter accidents and incidents by focusing on maintenance management errors promises to be particularly intriguing. Information on the Australian Aerospace Congress and the International Helicopter Safety Team can be found at www.aiac12.com/prelim_7.html and www.ihst.org, respectively.

In the United States, FlightSafety International and R&W are co-hosting the 2007 Helicopter Safety Forum at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport April 12-13. This conference builds on two previous annual events that FlightSafety organized. Originally focused on helicopter EMS safety, the gathering has expanded to include safety and training in airborne law enforcement, offshore operations, business aviation and sightseeing operations.

"The primary objective of this forum is to determine safety and training initiatives available to the rotorcraft industry, with a special focus on safety management systems," said Terry Palmer, FlightSafety’s manager of rotorcraft special programs.

The conference will consist of safety presentations, roundtable discussions, and technology and training demonstrations. Topics to be covered include human factors and decision-making, risk assessment, training techniques, controlled flight into terrain, automation management, new technologies (such as traffic-alert/collision-avoidance and terrain-avoidance systems and night-vision systems), simulator scenarios, and government recommendations. For more, visit www.rotorsafety.com.

The forum will serve as a stage for firefighting operators to discuss common concerns and how best to address them. "We’re reaching out to other operators to keep tabs on what is current with us and who is doing what," said Deputy District Chief Harry Vergis of the Chicago Fire Dept. Air Sea Rescue Unit. "A lot of progress can be made by keeping lines of communications open."

Vergis has been working informally with counterparts in the Miami-Dade and Los Angeles County fire departments to swap information on operations, techniques, and concerns. That grew out of their common use of the Bell 412. "We’re trying to extend that nationally."

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