The potential of technologies to mitigate helicopter accident factors - status update and way forward

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Stevens, J.
Vreeken, J.
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Technology is not high on the list of most important accident / incident factors, as it is merely the lack of technology that may have led to an accident. However, technology provides a variety of solutions that can (directly or indirectly) address the identified safety issues and contribute to prevent various types of accidents or to increase survivability. In mid-2014 the Specialist Team (ST) Technology, under the aegis of the European Helicopter Safety Team (EHEST) concluded that 15 'highly promising' technologies jointly could potentially mitigate 11 of the top 20 helicopter safety issues, that five technologies were highly promising for three or more safety issues, and that there were three safety issues for which no potential promising technology have been identified. The current European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS) 2018-2022 includes an action to 'promote technologies that will provide helicopter safety benefits', which action is attributed to the European Safety Promotion Network Rotorcraft (ESPN-R) as successor of the EHEST initiative. In light of this action the questions arose what is the current status of those 'highly promising' technologies, how can this EPAS action be targeting the right technologies, and what could be a viable way forward. This paper presents an update regarding the status of the 15 identified 'highly promising' helicopter technologies. All of these have progressed towards a higher Technology Readiness Level (TRL) with various solutions being available on the market and being employed. Some additional safety enhancing technologies have been identified that in recent years either have been developed or became available on the market. Furthermore the paper lays the foundation for the aforementioned EPAS action by distilling safety concerns for the period 2012-2016 from the EASA Annual Safety Report 2017. For various types of operation the key risk areas have been identified, which then have been translated into technical and/or operational and/or human factors safety issues. Technological developments can help mitigate those safety issues. Finally it recommends the way forward for the EPAS action. This is not only based on the lessons learned from the former ST Technology, but also on other initiatives that have come to light. Various helicopter industry-wide (trade) organisations have developed programmes, including technical solutions, guidance material and training. And EASA concentrates on rulemaking tasks, research projects and safety promotion. It is recommended to: - Assess whether specific technologies that are being used in Offshore operations can equally be adopted in other Commercial Air Transport and/or Specialised Operations; - Identify for which technical, operational and human factors related safety issues the application of technologies might be useful; - Explore the possibilities to develop a proactive approach to enable an early focus on safety benefiting technologies for future safety concerns through assessing the potential type of accident and contributing factors, not only for current but also for future operations, and the development of an associated and periodically updated roadmap. It is the intention that these recommendations will be addressed by a new ST Technology.