Interesting Times
Dave Jesse on May 20, 2016

Interesting Times

There is a saying: “May you live in interesting times”. These certainly are interesting times. I was part way through writing a blog about the recent accident in Norway when I heard of the loss of an Egyptair Airbus A320, less than three weeks later.

The Helicopter

On 29 April, an Airbus Helicopters EC225 Super Puma crashed near Turøy. The aircraft was close to landing on its return journey from the rigs when the rotor literally came off and flew away by itself, leaving the aircraft to fall some 3,000ft onto rocks where the fuselage burst apart. The fuel burned on the rocks as the debris, with thirteen souls, slid into the water.

The Conference

With uncanny coincidence, the industry body dealing with the safety of offshore helicopter operations, HeliOffshore, met at their annual conference just two weeks later. The sense of loss was real. People who worked for the operator, CHC, the manufacturer, Airbus Helicopters, the oil companies and the accident investigators were present. The meeting started with a minute’s silence to commemorate those lost, both in that accident and others, over the past year.
The remarkable thing about HeliOffshore is that it has brought together all the parties involved in taking oilmen to work and back with a unique basis of community and collaboration. Barriers between operators, manufacturers and customers have been torn down to produce an organisation focused on solving the safety problem.
Rapid progress has been made. An organisation only one year old can boast some remarkable achievements – see http://helioffshore.org/ for more details.

The Aeroplane

On 19th May an Airbus A320 on a flight from Paris to Cairo with 66 souls on board crashed into the Mediterranean as it approached the Egyptian coast. At the time of writing, no details are known about the cause of the accident.

The Conference

The primary international conference for airline safety is the International Aviation Safety Summit (IASS), to be held in Dubai in November. At these meetings a statistical assessment of the accident rate for the preceding year will present hull losses and fatalities per million departures and the variation by geographical region.
We look at statistical analyses, with rolling averages and rejection of outliers. It is attractive to analyse “western build jets” because eastern-bloc built aircraft and turboprop accidents make the numbers look bad. We then tend to reject Africa as a lost cause, partly because most of those attending the conference don’t live there and in part because we don’t understand how to address the problems of that huge continent. This type of selective analysis draws a polite veil over the reality of what we should be discussing.

The Solution

One key difference is that at HeliOffshore there is full representation by the oil companies, representing the passengers. It is the oil company managers who have to speak to the bereaved relatives.
At the IASS conference, the voice of the passenger is only heard weakly. I accept that everyone attending the meeting flew there, but we’re all aviation enthusiasts so have a distorted view. Over the last few conferences, members of the October 9th organisation have attended IASS. They all lost relatives in the terrible accident at Milan’s Linate airport on 9/10/2001 when 118 lost their lives, but there is little other representation of the customer at this conference. Perhaps they should be more vocally represented.

Interesting Times

So I Googled the opening quote, only to find it was originally intended as a curse. In aviation safety, it would be really nice not to live in interesting times.