Pilot Training and Other Human Performance Issues

Pilot Training

HAI wants to help with pilot training to lower the amount of aviation accidents caused by human error

Recently there was a helicopter accident in my hometown. An Army Blackhawk went down in a field, killing all on board. I heard it fly over my house about 15 minutes before the accident, and I noticed that it seemed much lower and louder than expected. Of course, they don’t have a cause yet, and I don’t expect one for many months, maybe longer, but I know they are looking intently at pilot training. 

The Helicopter Association International (HAI) thinks that is an excellent place to start. They say that human performance issues are a contributing factor in the majority of aviation accidents. James Viola, the President and CEO of HAI, says that “most accidents are caused not by aircraft issues, but by people making mistakes, not following procedures or making poor decisions.” That seems to be where the local accident investigation is heading. Witnesses heard the engine struggling before the crash, and the question is, “Why didn’t they make a precautionary landing”? While we wait for the answer, it is interesting to note the progress made by the HAI to lower the industry accident rate by addressing human factors.

HAI’s vision for the helicopter industry is to achieve a zero accident safety record. The plan to do that is to pursue their 360 degree approach to safety. To this end, they have issued a comprehensive list of programs that address culture, processes and training, and the appropriate use of technology to reduce aviation risk. 

One of the most eye-opening programs they have released is a video called 56 Seconds to Live. The title refers to the amount of time a VFR helicopter pilot has left to live when he or she unintentionally continues flight into IMC conditions. That’s not very long. Inadvertent entry into IMC (IIMC) is one of the top causes of US fatal helicopter accidents. Hopefully, the film will inspire pilots and operators to do everything they can to beef up their training regarding IIMC, primarily focusing on recovery techniques. 

Another program that might have saved the Blackhawk pilots in our local accident is called Land and Live. As the name implies, the program encourages precautionary landings when flight conditions begin to deteriorate. The program includes techniques for making safe off-field landings, in addition to teaching good aeronautical decision-making. I was always jealous of a helicopter pilot’s ability to land pretty much anywhere, but apparently, it’s not that easy. Better training and tools to make good decisions will go a long way towards ensuring a safe landing, regardless of the situation. 

The HAI Safety Program truly is groundbreaking as an initiative for helicopter safety. Pilot training is only one piece of a large puzzle. Collaborating with other aviation industries will go a long way toward providing new training and resources for the helicopter community.

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