Helicopter Safety Team Says Industry Accident Numbers Headed in the Wrong Direction

Helicopter safety should focus on seven key life-saving actions.

Helicopter hovering over water
USHST says don't be afraid to divert or just turn around when the weather becomes unflyable.Airbus Helicopters

With half of 2019 behind and another six months to go, the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) says the U.S. helicopter industry is experiencing a year of fatal accidents. The USHST is calling on helicopter operators, pilots, instructors and mechanics to rely on safety basics and place a stronger emphasis on identifying and managing risk.

For the first six months of 2019, the U.S. helicopter industry has experienced 15 fatal accidents with 27 fatalities, on track to match 2013, when 30 fatal accidents occurred. However, since July is usually a month with a high number of accidents, the industry also is at risk to reach the total from 2008, when there were 35 fatal helicopter accidents.

To help slow this fatal accident trend, the USHST wants pilots, instructors and others with a stake in helicopter safety to focus on seven key actions that will save lives.

Carry enough fuel for unexpected situations. Ignoring minimum fuel reserve requirements is generally the result of overconfidence, a lack of flight planning, or deliberately ignoring regulations.

Conduct an adequate preflight inspection. Use a checklist and a final walk around to determine the condition of an aircraft prior to flight. Post-flight inspections can also identify issues prior to the next flight.

Recognize the Potency of OTC Medications. Pilots frequently underestimate the effects of OTC medications and the impairment caused by these sedating drugs. In spite of specific federal regulations and education efforts regarding flying while impaired, over-the-counter medication usage by pilots remains a factor in 10 to 13 percent of aircraft accidents.

Stop Scud Running. Flying at low altitudes to avoid clouds or bad weather is dangerous and can result in collisions with terrain or obstacles such as wires and towers.

VFR Flight in IMC can be fatal. This is the all-too-often result of flying too low. It is even more dangerous if the pilot is not instrument qualified or is unwilling to believe what the gauges are indicating and an inability to recognize deteriorating conditions.

Avoid Get-There-Itis. This "disease" clouds the vision and impairs judgment by causing a fixation on the original goal with a total disregard for any alternative courses of action.

Don't be Afraid to Divert, Turn Around or Land. Always make sure you have an alternative course of action available should the weather conditions preclude the completion of the flight as planned. In other words, don't be afraid to land and live.