Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Helicopters & VIPs

Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd.)
11, Silver State, Pilibhit Byepass Road,
Bareilly-243005 (U.P.) INDIA
Mob: 9411900090, 09999722636

Helicopters & VIPs

An accident is accident, and when it happens to be of an aircraft/helicopters accident especially with a VIP on board becomes a catastrophe and national news. The helicopter crash on 2nd September 2009, near Hyderabad with CM of AP on board sent shock waves all over the country and specially so in AP. YSR was a dynamic leader and had touched the nerves of the masses.

Whenever any accident takes place in Indian skies I am reminded of the Boeing Corporation’s world wide study on aircraft accidents. Study covered commercial aviation accidents of 30 years but is equally applicable to military aviation. Study had revealed that the rate of aircraft accidents is higher in Latin America, African continent and South Asia, as compared to US and Europe. The two attributes which were identified specific to South Asia were (a) “Chalta Hai” attitude (b) A tendency not to point out, fellow beings inadequacies/failings/faults committed. These very attitudinal deficiencies have been the reason of many accidents.

Let us critically analyze various contributory factors for the Bell-430 accident on 2nd Sep 2009.

Distance versus the endurance:-

The helicopter was tasked to fly a distance of 600 KM with an endurance of nearly 3 hrs. with speed of 240 km, could have a ground speed of 220 km, or even less (depending on the prevailing winds) This restricted endurance would have been fine in a clear weather conditions. This would have left very little margin of error on account of variation in track due to weather. Such a situation could have created hypertension among the pilots thus. Lowering the performance level, in rational thinking and decision making. Basically to undertake 600 km flight, in the prevailing and forecasted weather, was an in correct decision.

Route safety heights and its appreciation :-

Calculating the route safety height and airfield safety ht and descending below them under IFR conditions is inviting trouble. We have lost many aircraft/helicopters (even fitted with GPWS) who have ignored this basic principle of flying ‘Do Not Descend Below the Route Safety Height” under IFR, condition. The Belt-430 ignored this and seemed to have hit a hill on a diverted track.

Weather versus the helicopters flying:-

The norms laid down for helicopters flying are well defined and time tested. Basically helicopters are designed for VFR flights. Single engine most stringently. Twin engines not more than 4/8 (four Octa) of clouds/ That mean not more than half the sky should be obscured with clouding. Clouding should be stratus types of clouds. Not cumulus large cumulus build ups and under no circumstances vertical development clouds (Cb clouds). During the year 2009 monsoon had hit the India later. Month of Sept. was experiencing the worst phase of monsoon all over the country and AP is famous for its extra ordinary monsoon fury.

Why was the flight undertaken? :-

All the preflight conditions, that is flight envelop, weather conditions, operational planning indicated a “NOGO”. Pilots who are on deputation to State Govts, or other governmental agencies are their own master of decision making. Supervisions levels are negligible. Pilots trend to show over confidence of their performance levels. They (Pilots) try to come closer to the center of power to derive personnel benefits. (Permanent Placement higher position/allotment of land or houses at highly subsidized rates).

The CM had to attend a wedding of one of his colleagues. The pilot must have been pressurized or over emphasized the urgency of the CM to reach his destination point. By violating all possible safety norms (weather/Flight Envelop/Operational Limitation) pilot laid to rest the CM, other passengers and himself and his colleagues.

Dear aviators do not overreach the ORM (operational Risk Management), do apply and think rationally. We lost a great leader in YSR and our aviation colleagues (It was a human error accident).

Air Marshal Ashok Goel, served the IAF for 40 yrs. He was a transport pilot, and has more than 10000 hrs of flying on 13 types of aircraft. His last appointment in the IAF was Director General Flight Safety and Inspection.

PS :- Recommended to be printed in Aug 10 issue if approved by the Editorial Board.

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