Accident rates involving rotorcraft fell significantly through the first nine months of US fiscal year (FY) 2023, and the US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) is delighted. At the same time, the group reinforces the message that improvements are still necessary.
USHST is a group of industry and government volunteers focused on improving flight safety in civil vertical aviation, with an ultimate vision of eliminating fatal accidents in the USA. It is led by industry and government co-chairs and supported by a steering committee of 14 advisors.
In June 2023, the five accidents were the lowest total for any month of June in the 41 years on record. “Our accident record continues to show improvement,” said USHST Industry Co-Chair Chris Baur, who assumed the co-lead position this spring. “While our industry accident rate is improving, we can’t become complacent as we enter the middle of our busiest flying season here in the USA.”
Accident rate down by a third
Through the first nine months of the fiscal year (starting 1 October 2022), the group reported 59 accidents, with nine of the accidents including fatalities. Using Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates per 100,000 flight hours, the accident rate for fatal and non-fatal accidents was 2.78, which is 34 per cent lower than during the same period in FY2022 and 26 per cent lower than the five-year average for the same period.
The estimated fatal accident rate for the first nine months of FY2023 is 0.42, which is 51 per cent lower than the same period in FY2022, and 49 per cent lower than the five-year average for the same period.
“One of the primary goals of the USHST is to continually work to lower our accident rates,” said Baur. “While our numbers this year give us reason to be optimistic, the USHST and our industry still have plenty of work to do to help pilots develop a stronger safety culture and reduce repeatable accidents.”
One of the primary goals of the USHST is to continually work to lower our accident rates
Like many in the team, Baur brings a broad range of experience to USHST. He is the President and CEO of Hughes Aerospace Corporation, a globally credentialed air navigation services provider, and a pioneer in performance-based navigation. A military veteran, Baur is an experienced dual-rated airline transport pilot (ATP), airline captain, flight instructor/check airman, and flight test and technical pilot. He is certified in currently flying airplanes, helicopters and uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS). He leads USHST with the Government Co-Chair, Robert Reckert of the FAA.
“The USHST promotes safety across the spectrum of helicopter operations,” added Baur. “We are developing new tools for communications and working closely with the FAA, Helicopter Association International (HAI), industry original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and industry advocates such as Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and Air Medical Operators Association (AMOA). The USHST is also aligned with the Vertical Aviation Safety Team (VAST) promoting flight safety for vertical aviation worldwide.”
Collaboration across industry
While USHST focuses on the accident rates in the USA, international collaboration with groups like VAST is vital in reducing accidents globally. Pilots throughout the industry succumb to accidents in similar situations, regardless of where they occur. USHST supports working together, across actual or perceived barriers, identifying causes of accidents and best practices for safety of flight.
USHST uses data-driven accident and flight safety data analyses to better understand safety issues that result in accidents, and then use that insight to promote collaborative development and implementation of voluntary risk mitigations. Within its group of industry and regulatory members, USHST splits its efforts into six working groups that focus on safety issues within those categories. The working groups include Commercial, Helicopter Air Ambulance, Personal/Private, Aerial Application, Infrastructure, Training, and Other Activities.
A key element of USHST’s work has been a series of Helicopter Safety Enhancements (H-SEs). These are areas identified by USHST where additional work might be able to provide safety solutions that will reduce accidents. USHST closed all previous H-SEs earlier this year, including two with resolutions that the group promoted at HAI HELI-EXPO 2023 in Atlanta – H-SE 81: Improve Simulator Modeling for Outside-the-Envelope Flight Conditions, and H-SE 91: Enhanced Helicopter Vision Systems. The champion teams for H-SE routinely issue reports addressing their findings and recommendations before closing them.
USHST is currently considering topics for future H-SEs, including aviation decision-making, low altitude operations, night operations, fatigue awareness, and adverse wind situations
USHST is currently considering topics for future H-SEs, including aviation decision-making, low altitude operations, night operations, fatigue awareness, and adverse wind situations.
Much of the work performed by USHST is more public and interactive. Several years ago, the organization developed a visual and educational campaign to confront pilots with the dangers of continuing visual flight rules (VFR) flights into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The award-winning ‘56 Seconds to Live’ program featured a video where a pilot could have halted a flight several times but chose to continue the mission and ultimately crashed. An accompanying multi-part educational program offered viewers information on where alternative decisions could have been made.
USHST also holds a quarterly ‘All Hands Webinar’ throughout the year. These 90-minute webinars are typically broken into three or four sections, offering insights into safety areas, including quarterly safety statistics, an ad hoc topic, a review and update of H-SEs, and a seasonal topic.
Events and resources for pilots
The USHST website contains a library of materials such as the H-SEs, which focus on mission-specific safety topics, as well as media and links across the industry
The September All Hands Webinar will also be part of a three-day (11–13 September) live event at the HAI offices in Alexandria, Virginia. The USHST and HAI are collaborating on the first day of the event to advocate for COPTER IFR and expand the FAA’s weather camera network. Support for the FAA weather camera network is necessary for the program to expand throughout the USA. The FAA has indicated a more than 80 per cent reduction in accidents based on pilot decision-making related to the cameras. “If you’re in the Washington, DC, region in early September, we hope you’ll join us,” said Baur.
The second day of the event will include the quarterly All Hands meeting, while day three is a meeting day for the USHST Steering Committee. Interested aviation professionals, particularly safety professionals, are invited to attend the first two days, and more information is available through a USHST registration page found through the homepage of the USHST website (ushst.org).
“The USHST website contains a library of materials such as the H-SEs, which focus on mission-specific safety topics, as well as media and links across the industry,” added Baur. “Most of all, the USHST are volunteers interested in supporting others. Please let us know if you are interested in becoming a USHST volunteer, whether you are new to helicopters or a seasoned professional who would like to share your experience.”