Long-term helicopter accident rates remained unacceptably high and trends had not shown significant improvement when the first International Helicopter Safety Symposium (IHSS) was held in Montreal, Canada in September 2005 hosted by the American Helicopter Society (AHS) and the Helicopter Association International (HAI).  Participants included operators, manufacturers, maintenance organizations, regulatory agencies, accident investigators, professional associations and press from thirteen countries and five continents.  All in attendance understood that the marketplace was being affected by the accident trend and new analysis methods were available to advance safety in the industry.  With endorsements from participants of the 2005 IHSS, leadership from AHS, HAI, manufacturers and other interested organizations, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) joined together to form the International Helicopter Safety Foundation (IHSF). The IHSF agreed to develop and implement a data-driven, benefit-focused safety program designed to continuously reduce the risk of helicopter accidents. It set an aggressive goal of reducing the worldwide helicopter accident rate by 80% in 10 years (by 2016). The IHSF chartered a Joint Helicopter Safety Analysis Team (JHSAT) to develop data-driven safety recommendations in pursuit of the goal to reduce the accident rate and fatality risk. The JHSAT membership consisted of key stakeholders in the helicopter design, manufacture, operation, training and regulatory communities.

IHST initiated its analysis process to determine what went wrong and why it went wrong.  The process developed by the U.S. JHSAT evolved from earlier processes developed by Boeing and a U.S. Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) for analysis of commercial air carrier accidents. The JHSAT recognize that since its analysis method was dependent on the quality of the data reports utilized, it was vulnerable to missing or incomplete data.  General aviation accident report data is widely acknowledged to be considerably less detailed than commercial accident data.  Several factors lead to this: lack of onboard data recording devices, lack of investigatory resources, and inability of survivors to accurately reconstruct the event sequences leading to the accident.  Accordingly, the JHSAT adapted and refined the Boeing/CAST JSAT process for use in analyzing helicopter accident data and recommending safety enhancing interventions.  Integral to that process was developing event sequences, problem statements and intervention strategies that corresponded to the problem statements.  Three basic tenets of the CAST process were maintained:
1. Solutions must be based on actual accident data, i.e., data-driven;
2. Helicopter community stakeholders from the region must perform the analyses; and
3. Implementation of the resulting safety improvement recommendations should be measurable.

The first iteration of this process was accomplished using helicopter accident reports from the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  Other regional teams have also participated, maintaining the three basic tenets.  Internationally, the JHSATs have completed analysis on 800+ helicopter accidents.  Other sectors of the industry such as the U.S. Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) and Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) have also initiated a data-driven analysis related to the JHSAT process.

Four common themes were found in the U.S., Canadian and European analysis (Intervention Recommendations):

  • Implement (SMS) safety management systems
  • Improve training (including simulator/flight training device utilization, and aeronautical decision-making)
  • Improve maintenance practices
  • Leverage new technologies though new systems and equipment

The U.S. JHSAT analyzed three years of accident data and wrote three reports reflecting the findings of the analysis. A Compendium Report combined the information from these three reports into a single data set and presented it as a baseline for future IHST efforts.  A listing of the U.S. JHSAT Compendium Top 20 Intervention Recommendations (IRs) is available at the end of the Compendium Report.  A complete appendix of the reference data is in the Compendium Volume II which is available in the IHST Reports section of this website.

Economic feasibility of proposed intervention recommendations was not considered by the U.S. JHSAT, however it is a key consideration of the Joint Helicopter Safety Implementation Team (JHSIT).

As data analysis and intervention recommendations were developed, the IHST stood up the JHSIT to evaluate the feasibility of those recommendations and develop implementation strategies.   IHST and its strategic international partners developed and continue to develop wide-ranging initiatives including safety toolkits, instructional and educational safety videos and leaflets, and specific safety recommendations aimed at aiding in the helicopter industry’s enhancement of safety practices thereby reducing the accident rate and fatality risk.  The JHSIT has formed work groups specializing in SMS, Training, Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring (HFDM), Maintenance, and Infrastructure.  These work groups all share the common call to action for operators to recognize maturity of the industry by formalizing safety and training, implement an SMS, use Flight Data Monitoring which is viable for helicopter operators and has come of age disclosing flaws in standardization, operational procedures, and training, apply the “just culture”, and establish appropriate, focused, identifiable training to improve overall operation.

Following the CAST model, the U.S. JHSAT disbanded upon completion of its reports and a measurement team, the U.S. Joint Helicopter Implementation Measurement and Data Analysis Team (JHIMDAT), was commissioned to measure the effectiveness of the mitigations implemented by the U.S. JHSIT.  The JHIMDAT will continue its analysis of accident reports in an effort to provide the U.S. JHSIT feedback on the interventions.  A comparison of the latest accident data will be made against the Compendium report baseline and used in the measurement of improvement and expectantly will indicate the positive impact of the various IHST, JHSIT, JHSAT and JHIMDAT efforts.

The IHST is working with global partners and regional safety teams to develop strategies to move in concert on the common themes, with the greatest impact in the personal flying and training segments since extensive analysis by the IHST has identified that the groups most likely to have a helicopter accident are general aviation pilots, trainees, and small operators.  IHST is also working with regional teams to develop complimentary products for use worldwide, address unique regional needs locally, and implement a plan to share these products worldwide.  Social Media strategies have been developed to reach more individuals and operators.

Current strategies include efforts to:

  • Educate target audiences about the condition of helicopter safety and reasons behind helicopter accidents
  • Convey to audiences a sense of what progress is being made toward the IHST goal
  • Convey to audiences information about the worldwide partnership effort within the IHST
  • Raise the awareness that IHST “tools” can improve helicopter safety

Today nearly 40 countries support the efforts of the IHST and global growth continues every day.  In addition to the United States, safety teams have been established in Canada, Europe, Brazil, India, Japan, Middle East-North Africa, and expansion efforts in Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and South America continue.  Regional Partner communications continue to improve with periodic webcasts held as the result of a concept initiated at the 2011 International Helicopter Safety Symposium.  Regional updates on their respective pages in the Global Partners section of the website provide proof of the progress being made toward a measurable and significant reduction in the global helicopter accident rate.  (Click on the World Map on the IHST home page for more details.)

The IHST is looking for ways to expand its presence and utilization of its safety tools and methods into the helicopter community worldwide.  More expansive marketing and communications aimed at the “grassroots” of the helicopter industry may help to improve safety awareness.  Reaching out to the entire community is a task that the government can participate in, but cannot shoulder itself.  Regulatory actions should not be the answer.  When the global helicopter community steps up to voluntarily address safety, everyone benefits and the marketplace will thrive.  Be the “I” in IHST.