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Friday, July 1, 2011

Target Practice

By Andrew Parker

aparker@accessintel.com

Helicopter Association International (HAI) President Matt Zuccaro raised some interesting points that are worth repeating in his “President’s Message” sent out to association members on June 1 titled, “Are We Aiming at the Correct Target?”

While praising FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST), and other safety agencies and associations like the European Helicopter Safety Team, Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) and Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS) for focusing on the reduction of accidents in the high-profile helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) sector, Zuccaro points out that safety efforts should continue to focus on the big picture—specifically at high accident rates in the personal and training sectors.

The HAI president has experienced “an uneasy feeling for some time that we may be missing the target” by concentrating on certain mission types. “In the course of conducting safety presentations and serving on panels, I like to ask the attendees which industry segment is experiencing the highest number of accidents and needs the most attention. I almost always get the same immediate response—HEMS operations,” he continued.

“While all of us are focusing on HEMS—which we should do, in our pursuit of zero accidents—the statistics paint a different picture as to where our major safety problem truly lies,” Zuccaro wrote. “It appears that the majority of helicopter accidents [occur] in the personal flying FAA Part 91 operations and the initial pilot training environment.” But he is quick to point out there haven’t been “any significant NTSB or congressional hearings on these types of operations, nor any major FAA NPRM or regulatory initiatives, requests for press interviews on the subject [or] a plethora of industry forums or work groups.” According to Zuccaro, the “bottom line indicates that if we do not get a handle on these types of accidents, we will not have a significant positive effect on the overall accident rate.” To that end, HAI is undertaking an “aggressive outreach” campaign aimed at the personal/GA and training communities. Included in the efforts is an agreement with the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) to conduct a series of educational workshops and forums for GA pilots and owners, and provide helicopter CFI and training courses and web-based resources explaining the causal factors of accidents and methods to increase safety.

“Will these efforts alone solve the problem? Of course not, but they will move us toward a solution,” Zuccaro concluded.

Serious Business

Public outreach is also an important factor in reducing incidents of handheld lasers being pointed into the cockpits of helicopters and other low-flying aircraft, according to one FAASTeam member.

FAA is sending out the message that laser attacks are serious business that will leave offenders out of pocket, on top of the possibility of jail time (see “Shining Lasers at Aircraft ‘Not a Joke’,”). In addition to criminal charges from localities and states, and federal regulations currently pending in Congress, FAA will impose a fine of up to $11,000 per incident. While initial reaction was mixed about whether the financial approach would lead to a decline in incidents, Mike Franz—FAASTeam representative and subject of an April 2011 Rotor & Wing feature, “Man on a Mission: Mentoring Safer Pilots”—emphasized that ‘education and awareness’ are integral to combating the aviation safety hazard.

“Many incidents are by kids and teens fooling around and surely these young people do not need to be criminalized, but they do need to made aware and educated about the dangers to pilots,” Franz posted in a comment at www.facebook.com/rotorandwing in early June (see comment). “Intentional adult users of lasers on aircraft should be prosecuted!” he added, suggesting that local newspapers and television/radio stations could create awareness programs, and high school students could contribute to community service and outreach to help address the problem.

“We need to address these issues as safety considerations in aviation,” Franz wrote. Another Facebook user commented that, “penalties are good, but you have to enforce them, which will be the problem.”

For more in-depth coverage of the laser issue, check out the May 2011 issue, “Seeing the Light: Laser Pointer Attacks on Helicopters,” by Editor-at-Large Ernie Stephens. Also in that issue is “Zapping Common Sense,” which includes H.R. 368, Securing Cockpits Against Laser Pointers Act of 2011: Section 39A, aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.

Editorial Addition

I’d like to formally introduce Associate Editor Chris Sheppard, the newest member of the R&W team. Based at company headquarters in Rockville, Md., she comes from a background in journalism and public relations, and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Journalism from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at csheppard@accessintel.com or by phone at 1-301-354-1759. Welcome aboard, Chris!

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