Are helicopters unfit for flight?

Helicopters are 85 times more dangerous than cars and 350 times more dangerous than commercial travel by plane.

That’s the underreported aviation story today.

Over 20 years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration issued regulations requiring safer helicopter designs to improve air crash safety.

But the fatality rate has not budged because only 10 to 16 percent of the fleet have the safety devices needed to prevent fires and improve crash survivability.

On average, there is a civilian helicopter accident three times per week and one fatality per week.

But only 2 percent of fatalities occur on choppers with the safety measures mandated two decades ago. In the past 25 years there were 4,200 accidents with 9,200 occupants and 1,300 deaths, according to the latest FAA Rotorcraft Directorate report.

The reason helicopters remain so dangerous is that the FAA created a giant loophole that allows manufacturers to ignore the air crash safety measures for new helicopters if they are based on an older design or do not require any retrofitting.

That was the finding in a Sept. 17 FAA report on helicopter crashes.

Yet, over our strenuous objections, the FAA chose to study the matter for another two years rather than take action. This will forgo any modification or enforcement of its safety regulations indefinitely.

This is an egregious and deadly example of what is wrong at the FAA. The agency often refuses to implement basic safety rules, grants waivers or refuses to close loopholes in existing safety measures, causing an unnecessary loss of life.

The fatalities from helicopter crashes are primarily due to blunt force trauma, fire from fuel tank explosions, and drowning, largely preventable by the FAA safety measures that the helicopter industry has craftily avoided for decades.

Those particularly at risk are helicopter pilots, frequent passengers such as offshore oil workers, and affluent business persons and their families using helicopters to avoid traffic congestion.

Isn’t it time we make helicopters safe?

Does the FAA regulate helicopters sufficiently?

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About the Author
Kendall Creighton is a political activist and previous Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer in Washington, as well as in the Clinton White House. She currently works for FlyersRights.org, an advocacy group for airline passengers.
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