FAA Issues Safety Alert for Helicopter Preflight Operations

Agency says just a few seconds of effort could easily save lives.

Bell 206 Helicopter
The FAA has issued a safety alert to helicopter operators to help prevent loss of control accidents.Wikimedia Commons/Matthew Field

An FAA review of helicopter incidents and accidents over the past five years has identified several accidents in which loss of control (LOC) was encountered immediately after liftoff while light on the skids/gear, or from other issues caused by missed checklist items. With those operational issues in mind, the agency recently issued a safety alert to helicopter operators about not only the use of checklists but also as a reminder to perform stabilized hover checks prior to takeoff.

Industry experts suggest that helicopter operations, unlike those in fixed-wing aircraft, generally require a moment or two just after liftoff, to ensure that everything aboard the machine is humming along smoothly prior to leaping into the air. A number of loss of control accidents have been tied to factors that would have been apparent had the pilot made a few precautionary checks following engine start.

In one accident, the pilot attempted to lift off from a rooftop heliport without performing any kind of power check from the hover. As the helicopter moved over the edge of the rooftop out of ground effect, the machine crashed to a parking lot below. The investigation showed that while one of the helicopter's two engines was accurately set to the "fly" position, the second had been left in the "idle" position, a fault that could have been identified during a hover check. SAFO 16016, which includes a number of recommended helicopter preflight actions, can be found here at the FAA's website.