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HAI responds to NTSB hearing on Survival Flight fatal accident


May 21, 2020
Wings Staff

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Helicopter Association International released a statement about the National Transportation Safety Board’s May 19 hearing on the cause of a fatal January 2019 helicopter air ambulance crash in Ohio. The accident, involving a Bell 407 helicopter operated by Survival Flight, took three lives.

HAI states, that while it appreciates the efforts made by the NTSB investigative team and supports many of its recommendations, it also believes the agency overstated some solutions and overlooked other potentially valuable programs.

James Viola, president and CEO of HAI, provided the following assessment on behalf of the helicopter association, which works toward the International Helicopter Safety Foundation’s (IHSF) goal of zero fatal accidents: “HAI takes a holistic view of safe flight operations. Just as there is no one single cause for accidents, we believe there is no one single solution to preventing them. Companies and individuals must use training, technology, and a positive safety culture to reduce the causal factors for accidents.

“We agree that flight-data monitoring equipment can be valuable. But, as indicated in the hearing, industry follow-through with programs that use the data to improve operational safety may be inadequate. We believe this data should be shared with programs like the government-industry Aviation Safety Information Analysis & Sharing (ASIAS), which anonymously compiles information from participating operators’ flights to provide a snapshot of how our industry is doing and where improvements are needed. We also applaud the FAA for beginning to include the rotorcraft community in Info-Share, an industry-government sharing of safety information to increase safety in our community.

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“HAI also agrees that safety management systems (SMS) have a place in business operations. However, we also recognize that voluntary SMS while supported by the FAA, is not being fully optimized and implemented because of limited resources. We fully support revisions to SMS that include the adoption of industry best practices and standards that are acceptable to the FAA, and potentially having an SMS program approved by third-party entities. HAI produced a video on establishing an SMS program a number of years ago that discusses many of these elements.

“Safety culture was brought up again and again during the hearing. Safety culture is an integral part of SMS, where it enables organization-wide support for hazard reporting and risk analysis and management. Safety culture begins at the very top, with the public commitment of an organization’s management. That commitment is carried through the entire organization, from the top down, through implementation of policies, procedures, and demonstrated behaviors. Again, an SMS should include all industry best practices.”

In the midst of Viola’s statement, HAI commented on the NTSB’s naming of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as contributing to the accident through inadequate oversight of the operator’s risk management program, which led to the following recommendation by the NTSB: Require that principal operations inspectors (POI) assigned to helicopter air ambulance (HAA) operations possess helicopter and either HAA experience or experience as an assistant POI under a POI with HAA experience.

HAI believes that requiring the FAA to hire and train helicopter-specific POIs will not adequately address the issues identified during the NTSB hearing, and may instead lead to delays in implementing safety initiatives.

“The safety issues attributed to the POI during the hearing were irrelevant to their specific aircraft training or expertise. Helicopter-specific experience does not significantly improve a safety professional’s ability to monitor the use of a risk assessment or SMS program,” added Viola, in his portion of the statement. “HAI’s concern is that rotorcraft operators will end up waiting for their specific rotorcraft POI, who is suddenly backlogged or otherwise unavailable, and safety initiatives will lag as a result.”

HAI added that it favours replacing the NTSB’s recommendation to the FAA that is presented above with the following recommendations to the rotorcraft / vertical flight industry, the medical transport system industry, and the aviation insurance industry:

  • HAI should provide accreditation of all HAA operations that voluntarily meet all NTSB recommendations;
  • Referring medical transport agencies should select HAA providers only from accredited operators, similar to requirements in offshore support and government firefighting contracts; and
  • Aviation insurance companies should familiarize themselves with the higher level of safety achievable through volunteer programs and practices recommended by the IHSF.

HAI states, that along with several other aviation associations, it offers safety accreditation programs that offer valuable third-party reviews of operations and can play a significant role in enhancing operators’ processes, procedures, safety and culture.

“The HAI Accreditation Program of Safety (HAI-APS) helps helicopter operators reduce accident and incident rates by improving their safety culture. We developed the program to help participating businesses ‘fly to a higher standard’ of safety and professionalism,” said Viola. “Our program is mission-specific and meets all International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) safety standards.”

HAI notes other groups providing accreditation services include the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS), which provides standards specific to the HAA community that also meet IS-BAO standards. “We fully support the use of accreditation programs,” said Viola. “We recommend leveraging the benefits of such programs to the maximum extent possible.”

HAI also points to its Land & LIVE program that encourages pilots in every sector of the helicopter industry to refuse unsafe missions or to land quickly when weather or maintenance issues threaten existing flights.