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27 September 2017

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Blogs: Together We Can Save Lives Offshore

By Gretchen Haskins, CEO, HeliOffshore 

Imagine if helicopter systems never failed. Imagine if there were no obstacle collisions or accidents involving loss of control. Imagine if pilots were always able to correctly respond to warning systems, and that there were never any maintenance errors. HeliOffshore’s global community of professionals spends a lot of time developing solutions that aim to turn these “what if” ideals into reality. We do so from on our conviction that – had these issues been resolved – then more than 100 people might still be alive today (based on the factors accounting for fatalities between 2006 and 2016*). Although fatal offshore helicopter accidents are relatively rare, compared to the approximately 3,000 deaths per day worldwide in cars, our industry knows the importance of every single life.  Experts from across the globe are committed to eliminating the potential causes of loss of life.

We do far more than imagine this safer, alternate reality; we’re working hard to make it our industry’s future. Almost three years ago, in October 2014, five leading helicopter operators decided to combine their energy and expertise to enhance the safety of the men and women they fly to offshore workplaces each day. Since then, another 100 companies have followed this vision to join a growing organisation where competitive issues are put to one side in pursuit of their shared resolve to achieve ever higher levels of safety.

Beyond our profound calling to eliminate loss of life, more and more offshore stakeholders now appreciate the tangible value proposition that will see investments in safety rewarded with significantly higher returns in terms of cost savings from accidents averted. Our inspiration comes from our fixed-wing colleagues. Back in 1998, the airline industry—which had suffered 200 hull losses in the preceding 10 years—formed the Commercial Aviation Safety Team. This was to be the fulcrum for a major investment in air transport safety that was to survive the extreme financial hardship resulting from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The group set, and more than met, its goal of reducing fatalities by 80 percent, and saving over $600 million per year in the costs of accidents to the industry at the same time. It is widely recognised that, had the air transport community not grasped this nettle, it’s accident rate was on course to become unsustainable.

Of course, the offshore industry faces significant economic challenges of its own today and so it is all the more important to ensure that there is no loss of focus on safety. So, in this regard, I’m happy to report that we have recently held very constructive meetings with the the HeliOffshore community, including the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers. The energy companies see that they have a vested interest in supporting our work to save lives, and their support—in terms of funding and leadership—could prove to be a force multiplier.

HeliOffshore is stepping up work on key projects that we have prioritised as having the greatest potential to save lives in offshore helicopter operations around the world. These priority projects continue to gain momentum through HeliOffshore’s growing collaboration between aircraft operators, oil and gas companies, manufacturers and service providers. For example:

·      Enhanced obstacle avoidance through the implementation of enhancements to Helicopter Terrain Awareness Systems (HTAWS) for the offshore fleet.

·      Improved system reliability and resilience to eliminate the main causes of safety-critical system failures

·      Expansion of a major safety intelligence data programme that will collect and analyse helicopter flight data monitoring output from operators to identify causes and trends for operational safety performance issues

·      Collection of operational data to support the introduction of evidence-based training for helicopter flight crew

In addition to the HTAWS implementation programme, HeliOffshore’s Operational Effectiveness workstream is now starting work on the second-phase of eye-tracking research, which is aimed at helping pilots to make better use of automation in the cockpit. To achieved a better understanding of the pilot monitoring function, the research will compare the results of an anonymous flight crew survey with simulator trials.

The Operational Effectiveness workstream recently introduced approach path management guidelines that are based collaboratively produced best practice on how to achieve safe, stabilised approaches. The guidelines are built around the five key elements needed for safe approaches: energy state; approach briefing; go-around management; monitoring procedures; and the use of automation. The group also has been working with OEMs, such as Airbus and Sikorsky, on the introduction of flight crew operating manuals.

HeliOffshore’s Safety Enablers workstream is taking the lead with the safety intelligence data programme. The new global data management system will be built around GE’s Predix big data platform. The association is about to sign a contract with two other companies that will provide expert IT support for the second and third phases of this key project.

Operators from around the world will input data into the system which will be used to track and share it to reach a clearer understanding of adverse safety issues and trends. From this, solutions will be devised through HeliOffshore’s collaborative process and will help us make the business case and measure the safety benefits of our safety improvements.

Meanwhile, HeliOffshore’s System Reliability & Resilience workstream has started analysing aircraft reliability data gathered from the fleets of member operators. This has helped the group to identify priorities for safety improvement efforts in both technical and human systems.  This helps us to ensure we are seeing weak and addressing weak signals of potential system failures, and also providing effective support for maintainers across the globe.

For me, it is a real privilege and responsibility to lead this organisation, solely dedicated to saving lives.  The hard work of people in our worldwide industry has created a powerful coalition, determined to drive even higher levels of safety performance in our industry.  I am grateful to, and constantly inspired by how much, working together, we can truly save lives.

* Source: EASA Safety Risk Portfolio for Offshore Helicopters Operations.

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