A very normal accident

It was early evening on the 24th September 2022 when an offshore AW139 helicopter inbound to Houma-Terrebonne Airport in Louisiana, USA, declared a mayday. A lot had already happened in the cockpit by the time the co-pilot hit the press to transmit… 

We take a look at Normal Accident theory in the light of a recent accident: Technology is both a risk control and a hazard itself. The act of adding technology is at best risk neutral. Continually adding more technology in the belief that we are adding more layers of defence in a system is flawed because we are in fact adding more combinations of possible failure modes. In other words, there is a direct trade- off between increasing safety by adding in more controls, and decreasing safety by adding complexity.

The safety dividend of aviation’s professional culture?

How much does an aviator’s own cultural identification with safety have a role in contributing to safety outcomes? Certain professions have strong and distinctive professional cultures. Aviation is one of these. Does a belief in a deep-rooted safety culture underpin how aviators identify as professionals?

The need for speed? How slowness has a value all of its own.

Human exploits in aviation have always been closely linked to our fascination for speed. We admire speed in its many guises and it remains a marker of achievement in almost any field you care to think of. In aviation, just as in many other walks of life, we often assume the faster the better. We associate speed with competence. But what if we could disassociate the idea of slowness with incompetence? What if instructors were made to teach the opposite? What if we came to associate a slow response with higher skill levels and greater professionalism?

Developing resilience to startle and surprise in helicopter operations

Also published in AirMed&Rescue April 2022 edition. https://www.airmedandrescue.com/latest/long-read/developing-resilience-helicopter-operations

What should startle and surprise training mean in an applied sense and how should we be approaching it? Do the differences between airline transport flight profiles and helicopter operations mean that we should be looking critically at how to approach the startle and surprise from a rotary wing perspective? Is it as significant a hazard in the low level, high workload, high obstacle environment in which helicopter crews spend much of their time?

The automation explosion: examining the human factor fallout

Also published in AirMed&Rescue, Nov 2021 edition.

Automation reduces workload, frees attentional resources to focus on other tasks, and is capable of flying the aircraft more accurately than any of us. It is simultaneously a terrible master that exposes many human limitations and appeals to many human weaknesses. As we have bid to reduce crew workload across many different tasks and increase situational awareness with tools including GPS navigation on moving maps, synthetic terrain displays, and ground proximity warning systems, we have also opened a Pandora’s Box of human factors to bring us back down to the ground with a bump. Sometimes literally.

Helicopter Hoisting and the Human in the system:

Applying the 3Hs to decision-making during helicopter hoist operations. On the 29 April 2020 at Biscarosse near Bordeaux in France, two crew members of a French Air Force H225 fell to their deaths when a hoist cable parted during a winch training exercise. (Summary report in English from Aerossurance.) The tragic outcome coupled with theContinue reading “Helicopter Hoisting and the Human in the system:”

On Lookout and helicopters

The importance of an effective lookout. We’ve heard it from day one in aviation, a constant through our flying training days and beyond. The dangers of mid-air collision, obstacles, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) will always be there.  These are not static threats however, but are always evolving. Take the proliferation of drones asContinue reading “On Lookout and helicopters”

Don’t neglect your CRM: The value of telling stories

Last week was a CRM week. I was immersed in a Crew Resource Management course for aspiring facilitators with three full days dedicated to talking, listening, and learning about flying, human factors, and facilitation. Learning from the experiences of others is a lot of what human factors training is about. You don’t do that withoutContinue reading “Don’t neglect your CRM: The value of telling stories”

Flying SAR in the sunshine: What’s not to like?!

From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean: The Weather. Learning to adjust. And just learning. On moving to Valencia last year to try my hand at flying a Search and Rescue helicopter in Spain, the predominantly anti-cyclonic picture of Spain’s Mediterranean-facing east coast presented an entirely new meteorological situation to me. “SAR in the sunshine, what’sContinue reading “Flying SAR in the sunshine: What’s not to like?!”

“Engine failure! Cut cut!” Power loss during winching operations: the pre-eminent risk in your assessment?

“Clear door, ready to winch.” “Power assessment/hover scenario: Ditching/Committed/Flyaway/Safe Single Engine.” For most of us who fly multi-engine helicopter types, single engine performance and the choice of flight profiles deriving from this was introduced as a predominant consideration from the beginning of our flying training, and has remained there ever since.  Our pre-flight calculations, ourContinue reading ““Engine failure! Cut cut!” Power loss during winching operations: the pre-eminent risk in your assessment?”

Sting in the tail: keeping the back end at the front of your mind.

Following the accident at Leicester City Football Club at the end of last month, all of which was caught on camera, and replayed very publicly, tail rotor failures are back in focus, and for those of us who fly the machines, are very much at the forefront of our minds. It was following a similarContinue reading “Sting in the tail: keeping the back end at the front of your mind.”

Aviation safety culture and the paradox of success:  Can safety innovation keep pace with technological progress?

The aviation industry is hailed as a pioneer of safety practices, of open reporting, of just culture, and in learning from its mistakes. And given its remarkable safety record, this reputation is perhaps justified. Nevertheless, it would be both complacent and counter to those values themselves to believe that the goal of safety has alreadyContinue reading “Aviation safety culture and the paradox of success:  Can safety innovation keep pace with technological progress?”


Texting & Flying: Pilot distraction & the myth of multi-tasking. On August 26, 2011, at about 6:41 pm CDT, a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter operated by Air Methods on an EMS mission crashed following a loss of engine power as a result of fuel exhaustion a mile from an airport in Mosby, Missouri. The pilot,Continue reading “TEXTING AND FLYING?”