Despite isolated accidents with a helicopter Tour, statistics show helicopter crashes are becoming rarer. In the US, both the helicopter accident rate and fatal helicopter accident rate have fallen, according to the FAA, from 4.95/1.02 per 100,000 flight hours in 2013 to 3.19/0.51 per 100,000 flight hours in 2016, which translates to a total drop from 146 accidents to 106, and 30 fatal accidents to 17.
“Accident rates for the U.S. civil helicopter industry flattened out during 2017 but remained well below accident totals from three and four years ago. Preliminary data shows that the 2017 accident rate was 3.55 per 100,000 flight hours, compared to an accident rate in 2016 of 3.45. This 3 percent increase stems from a few months during 2017 with uncharacteristically high accident totals – – 18 accidents in February and 23 accidents in July,” a study from the United States Helicopter Safety Team revealed.
The FAA says the fatal accident rate across all aviation types is 0.84 per 100,000 flight hours, less than the 1.02 reported for helicopters. But this figure is skewed by the fact that helicopters are used in risky operations, such as search and rescue missions, in war zones, and bad weather.
The helicopter industry along with the FAA has been working with groups such as the International Helicopter Safety Team and the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team to prevent accidents. The effort has been successful through a series of proactive measures.
Firstly, the FAA has encouraged helicopter companies and individual pilots to promote safety in the workplace by establishing a system where people can report unsafe conditions without fear of reprisal, making employees champions of safety, and implementing safety training programs for mechanics, pilots, and other employees.
Furthermore, the FAA has issued the Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment policy, which allows operators and manufacturers to install safety equipment through a streamlined approval process in order strike a balance between risk and safety through a “common-sense” approach.
The FAA and industry are also using technological advances to encourage safer helicopter flights. For example, the FAA has made the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system (ADS-B) mandatory in U.S. helicopters as of Jan. 1, 2020 if they intend to operate in busy airspace. This satellite-based technology provides three-dimensional information about a helicopter’s position, information about its direction and size, without the geographic limitations of radar.
Finally, the FAA is working with the industry to ensure all newly-manufactured helicopters prevent injuries, post-crash fires and catastrophic damage from bird-strikes. Some manufacturers and operators have voluntarily installed the life-saving equipment. The FAA also requires commercial helicopter operators, including air ambulances and air taxis, implement flight rules and procedures, improved communications, training, and onboard safety equipment.
“Beyond checking that the company concerned has the necessary local licenses and permits, and is well reviewed on social media, it’s simply not feasible for a tourist to judge whether or not a particular adventure excursion – whether it is a helicopter flight, white water rafting or a pony trek – is going to be well-run and safe,” says Nick Trend, a consumer expert.
So, helicopter tours aren’t failsafe but the aviation industry seems to be taking proactive steps that other transportation industries are not. Therefore, you should enjoy your next helicopter tour without fear that you’re engaging in a dangerous activity.