The total number of U.S. helicopter accidents has steadily declined over the past 10 years, but the aviation community has not made sustainable progress in reducing the number of fatal accidents. In response to the Federal Aviation Administration’s 2013-2014 post-crash fire and blunt force trauma study, along with concerns raised by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the FAA has tasked the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee’s (ARAC) Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group to take a new look at the airworthiness standards for older helicopter type designs. This work will focus on solutions that give helicopter occupants the greatest possible chance of surviving an emergency landing or accident.
The FAA issued rules in the 1980s and 1990s to protect helicopter crews and passengers from blunt force trauma and post-crash fires. Those rules raised occupant protection standards for new type-design helicopters. However, the rules did not apply to newly-manufactured helicopters with older type designs still in production, including new “derivative” models that are sufficiently similar to older type designs. As a result, most helicopters produced today are not required to include life-saving features such as crash-resistant fuel systems and energy-absorbing seats mandated by later rules, and voluntary equipage has been slow. In fact, as of the end of 2014, only 16 percent of the U.S. helicopter fleet included crash-resistant fuel systems and only 10 percent had energy absorbing seats.
The Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group will provide the FAA with three reports over the next six-to-24 months. Information about the group’s tasking and deliverables are outlined in the Federal Register.
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