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Mixed Results for U.S. Helicopter Accident Rates During 2018

WASHINGTON DC – Accident rates for the U.S. civil helicopter industry improved only slightly during 2018, but remained below accident totals from four and five years ago. Preliminary data shows that the 2018 accident rate was 3.62 per 100,000 flight hours, compared to an accident rate in 2017 of 3.70. There were 121 total accidents in 2018 compared to 123 accidents in 2017.

Compared to five years ago, the accident rate has been cut 27 percent. On a less positive note, however, the fatal accident rate rose slightly year-over-year, with 24 fatal accidents occurring in 2018 and 20 fatal accidents in 2017.

Analysis by the United States Helicopter Safety Team (www.USHST.org) shows that some mission areas within the industry had fewer fatal accidents and some fatal accident causes were less prevalent during 2018.

Causes and Solutions

Personal/Private helicopters continue to be a leading area for fatal accidents, often due to the lesser amount of experience possessed by the pilots of these smaller aircraft.  Three key areas within the industry – Air Ambulance, Commercial and Aerial Application – all showed improvements during 2018 with fewer fatal accidents.  However, it was a bad year for Utilities/Patrol/Construction with the percentage of fatal accidents more than tripling.

As for the causes behind the fatal accidents, two targeted areas for the USHST – Loss of Control and Unintended Instrument Meteorological Conditions – had a reduced number of fatal accidents.  Low Altitude operations saw more fatal accidents and this is linked to the accident increases in the Utilities/Patrol/Construction mission area.

The USHST also considered how the implementation of its proposed Helicopter Safety Enhancements could have potentially helped prevent the 24 fatal accidents in 2018.  They found that:
  • Safety Enhancement 19A - Safety Culture and Professionalism,  related to more of the fatal accidents that occurred in 2018 (50 percent of the accidents) than any other of its 22 Safety Enhancements.

Three other Safety Enhancements each related to three or four of the fatal accidents.  These were:
  • Safety Enhancement 13A - Utilities Patrol and Construction Recommended Practice Guide, 
  • Safety Enhancement 82 - Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring, 
  • Safety Enhancement 122 - Recommended Practices for Standardization of Autorotation and Emergency Aircraft Handling Training.

In addition, the USHST is recommending a key takeaway in light of the increase in Low Altitude fatal accidents. If the operation does not necessitate flying low, pilots should always choose a higher altitude.  In several cases, the aircraft hit obstacles that would have been avoided if the helicopter pilot had elected to fly higher.

Reducing fatal accidents even further is a central USHST aim.  From 2016 through 2019, the USHST is focusing major attention on reducing fatal accidents within the U.S. civil helicopter community.  The industry-government partnership is targeting a reduction by 2020 to 0.61 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours.  

More information about the USHST, the International Helicopter Safety Foundation, its reports, safety tools, Reel Safety audio-visual presentations, and YouTube safety videos can be obtained at its web site at www.IHSF.aero and on the IHSF Facebook page.


Total U.S. Accidents

2013: 146 accidents, 30 fatal accidents, 62 fatalities
2014: 138 accidents, 21 fatal accidents, 37 fatalities
2015: 121 accidents, 17 fatal accidents, 28 fatalities     
2016: 108 accidents, 17 fatal accidents, 29 fatalities       
2017 123 accidents, 20 fatal accidents, 34 fatalities compared to 2013:
2018 121 accidents, 24 fatal accidents, 55 fatalities 17% decrease in accidents

Data for 2018 is preliminary and there is potential for at least two more adjustments to the annual rates.
In March 2019, the FAA’s next Aerospace Forecast will be released and an adjustment could be made if the estimated 2018 flight hours shown in the 2019 forecast are different than the 2018 forecast.  A final adjustment could occur after September 2019 when the FAA’s 2018 General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey publishes data based on rotorcraft flight hours received from operators.  It should be noted that in recent years, the FAA Forecast of U.S. rotorcraft flight hours has been within two to three percent of the flight hours published in the annual GA and Part 135 Survey, so adjustments to the rates are anticipated to be minimal.

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