"Embracing the Basics"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Fort Worth, Texas
November 8, 2011

Fifth International Helicopter Safety Symposium


Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Duncan (Trapp). Thank you for inviting me here today.

I’ve mostly been a fixed-wing guy all my life, but I have the utmost respect for the job that helicopters perform.

You take off from rooftops and roads and grassy fields. Many times you are landing where no one else has landed before. It’s new each time.

In short, helicopter operations certainly have more than their share of challenging missions and environments.

So keeping all that in mind, we want to continue to work together to improve helicopter safety worldwide.

Rotorcraft perform many important services – saving lives, fighting fires, chasing criminals. Helicopters also ferry oil workers to platforms, take us on sightseeing trips and taxi rides, and they give us the latest update on rush hour traffic.

We want to make sure helicopters are performing these services as safely as possible.

Five years ago the International Helicopter Safety Team announced its safety mission:  to reduce the international civil helicopter accident rate by 80 percent in 10 years.

Now that is a very ambitious goal. But ambitious goals are helpful because they make us think big and achieve more than we thought possible. A wonderful goal would be zero accidents.  We need to keep moving in that direction.

And we have made inroads. At this point, the worldwide accident rate has fallen 30 percent, compared to the 2001-2005 timeframe. This is a strong step in the right direction. 

However, a helicopter accident still occurs once a day, on average, somewhere in the world.  Last year, 91 of these helicopter accidents were fatal, resulting in more than 220 fatalities around the world.

We still need to do more. And that’s why symposiums like this are so important. Talking with one another is important. Sharing best practices and lessons learned can make a world of difference.

Around the globe we have a strong network of people and institutions coming together to take action on helicopter safety. We have civil aviation authorities and industry participation from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Australia, India, Russia and multiple countries inEuropeand theMiddle East. It’s a privilege to be here, working with all of you.

And we want to expand our network and work with partners in Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand and more. We’re open to working with everyone.

We are making progress, but if our current statistical trend continues, the industry will not meet its goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2016. 

We are at a critical juncture where our efforts to reduce the accident rate have hit a plateau and we need to jump start the effort.

The International Helicopter Safety Team wants to expand its presence overseas. It wants to increase the use of safety tools and methods in the helicopter community worldwide. 

More expansive marketing and communications aimed at the “grassroots” of the helicopter industry may help to improve safety awareness. We need your help with this – with reaching the small operators.

Reaching out to the entire helicopter community is a task that the government can participate in, but cannot shoulder by itself.  Regulatory actions alone should not be the answer. When the entire helicopter industry steps up to address safety voluntarily, everyone benefits. The entire industry can expand and thrive.

As an industry, it’s in everyone’s best interest to improve the safety record. Safety is good for business.

So how can we do this?

Well, several countries have studied their helicopter accidents to determine the causes. The United States, Canada and Europe have gone through this process and Brazil is completing theirs. This fall, representatives from Russia gave their commitment to go through the assessment process as well. We welcome them and want more countries to join.   

The results of these assessments are very similar across the board, so far. The results indicate four broad categories where we can work to improve safety.  These four areas are: safety management systems, improving training, thorough maintenance, and adopting new systems and equipment.  When taken all together, they create a robust safety culture.

The International Helicopter Safety Team wants to do for helicopters what CAST, the Commercial Aviation Safety Team, did for the airlines. 

CAST was able to find common threads to accidents and improve the safety record for airlines worldwide.

The helicopter safety team has adapted the CAST process. It uses real accident data and a broad spectrum of industry experts to analyze it. It establishes measurements to ensure that the actions we take are having an effect.

So, first, a word about safety management systems and why they are so important. 

We are working to shift from a safety system that relies on forensics, to one where we use computer analyses to show us trends and to help us make safety decisions.

A Safety Management System is a safety feedback loop. You identify the problem, you analyze it, and you come up with a solution. Then you train to the solution and check how you’re doing.

We need those data points, and they can only come from you. By using a flight data monitoring device, you can review your flight afterwards. This will help you identify if you exceeded standard operating procedures. By gathering data, sharing it, and analyzing it, we can get ahead of these accidents.   

And let me add that safety management systems do not have to be large and complex. They can be tailored to the operation at hand. If you are a private pilot, you can have a log book and your own check list that you use before each flight.

You can ask yourself, “Did I have adequate rest? Has my helicopter been maintained appropriately? Did anything unusual happen during the last flight that I have not explored? Am I in the frame of mind to make safe decisions, or am I distracted?”

If you have a process, it really does help and it improves safety.

Pilot training is the second area where we can make improvements. 

We are increasing the use of simulator training and it’s something that we have to make available to more people. We also need to go back to basics and make sure pilots know how to do complicated, but basic, maneuvers like an autorotation to glide down in the event that you lose an engine.  Our partners in Europeare leaders in this area and we should consider this kind of skill set in our training.

Training will improve through the new master flight instructor program for helicopter pilots introduced this year. And it will improve through mentoring programs, which are being adopted by industry organizations.

The FAA’s Safety Team is working with helicopter groups, in particular with Helicopter Association International, to offer safety seminars around the country.  These will focus on the characteristics of certain geographic areas and provide training tips for operators, pilots, flight instructors and mechanics. In fact, IHST has already posted these “toolkits” and videos on its website, at www.IHST.org.

Paying closer attention to how we perform maintenance is another important area for improvement.

Of course, it seems obvious, but we need to follow the manufacturers’ guidelines for how to maintain the rotorcraft. We can’t take short cuts. We have to do preventive maintenance. We have to look at how we are doing the service to make sure we’re doing it right.

Finally, adopting advanced systems and equipment will help improve the safety rate.

Helicopters equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast in the Gulf of Mexico now have improved safety where there was no radar coverage before.  This surveillance system has brought us to new levels of safety and precision. We’ve installed ADS-B radio stations on oil platforms as part of an agreement with Helicopter Association International, oil and natural gas companies and helicopter operators.  ADS-B equipped aircraft receive air traffic services direct to the platform, giving the users far greater flexibility than the restrictive grid system that was in place.  We’ve opened up about a quarter of a million square miles of new, positively controlled airspace. 

 Helicopters in the Gulf are ferrying as many as 10,000 workers a day out to thousands of oil rigs.

Today equipped helicopters in the Gulf are saving about 100 pounds of fuel and shaving approximately five to 10 minutes off flight times, thanks to ADS-B.

If you equip – which some companies have – you’ll be getting better situational awareness, onboard collision avoidance and cockpit weather.  Equipped helicopters have a lot more information available to them.

I wanted to finish up with a look at a new area where we are leveraging the benefits of NextGen for the helicopter industry. On the East Coast we have published brand new, public helicopter routes. These satellite-based routes run from New York City to Washington, D.C. and they open up the benefits of NextGen navigation to rotorcraft in this area. Now helicopter operators can benefit from RNAV routes that allow them to fly from point to point more directly, saving time and money, and enhancing safety. 

These low altitude en route paths are the result of a partnership between the FAA and the helicopter industry. Helicopters get dedicated routes, separate from airplanes –something that wasn't available before. These routes also give them better access to the IFR system. This is a huge step in the right direction.

Looking forward, we at the FAA are building on this. Our flight standards folks are working on WAAS-LPV approaches for helicopters.

These will be even more accurate. They’ll bring you right down to a point in space, like an Instrument Landing System brings you to a runway.

Once you reach the point in space, you will see the heliport and can decide to land on the ground, the roof, or wherever you need to.

We tested this on a hospital approach in DesMoines, Iowa and it worked very well. We are working on criteria specifically for helicopters and for all phases of instrument flights. These routes will greatly help rotorcraft navigating in dense urban environments or mountainous terrain where a higher level of precision is needed.

So to wrap up, I want to reiterate that we need your help and partnership and I am so heartened to see all of you here. We need to implement safety management systems, improve training and maintenance, and leverage the benefits of NextGen to reach our goal in helicopter safety.

I know that working together we accomplish a whole lot more than working apart. So thank you very much for your commitment, your perseverance and your dedication to the dynamic world of vertical flight.   

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