A VAST Difference for Safety
By Gene Trainor, FAA Compliance & Airworthiness Division
Helicopters and their crews rescue people worldwide from sinking boats, the sides of cliffs, and during medical emergencies. They transport workers to oil rigs, tourists across the Grand Canyon, and presidents, prime ministers, and other leaders to high-level meetings.
It doesn’t matter where on the planet these flights occur. Helicopters need to take off and land safely for a well-functioning international airspace system. As the skies will likely get more crowded with the emergence of vertical take-off and landing vehicles (VTOL), also known as urban air mobility vehicles, the importance of a worldwide culture of safety increases.
The Vertical Aviation Safety Team (VAST) has taken on the mantle of championing safety internationally on this front. VAST is a public-private initiative to enhance worldwide flight operations safety in all segments of the vertical flight industry. A notable contribution was its coordination of the recent VAST 2022 Global Conference in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The October conference, an outgrowth of the FAA International Rotorcraft Safety Conferences, featured presentations on surviving helicopter crashes, and how pilots can avoid birds, drones, fixed-wing aircraft, and utility wires. Mechanics received updates and training from major helicopter manufacturers, such as Bell, Airbus, Sikorsky, Leonardo, and Schweizer. The VTOL community discussed vertiports, performance criteria, community acceptance, and how hydrogen-powered vehicles work.
“Vertical aviation is a global endeavor,” said Jim Viola, Helicopter Association International president and VAST industry representative. “We draw from an international workforce and economy to build, operate, fly, and fix aircraft around the world. So it makes sense that improving safety in vertical aviation must also be a global effort.”
VAST was announced June 1, 2021, as the successor to the International Helicopter Safety Team, later known as the International Helicopter Safety Foundation, with a vision of zero fatal helicopter accidents worldwide.
The goals of this government-industry volunteer organization are:
- Establish the organization as the world’s most trusted source for vertical flight safety information and resources.
- Establish working groups to represent key segments and issues relevant to the global VTOL industry.
- Formalize leadership positions, working groups, and advisory roles for participating organizations and individuals.
- Identify, collect, harmonize, and deliver centralized access to safety information and resources from participating stakeholder entities.
- Provide and coordinate a forum where regional safety teams, safety authorities, and other industry stakeholders can work together on vertical flight safety issues.
The organization has about a dozen chapters worldwide, including the United States Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), chaired by Karen Gattis of the FAA and Nick Mayhew of CAE, an international high technology company. The USHST is likely best known for its “safety enhancements” (H-SEs) that provide a step-by-step process to improve rotorcraft safety. See ushst.org for more details.
The USHST is among VAST’s most active chapters. Other chapters exist in Brazil, Canada, Chile, Europe, India, Mexico, New Zealand, and Japan.
Pilots and mechanics are urged to visit VAST’s website https://vast.aero, which contains hundreds of reports, videos, and event listings all geared toward helicopter and VTOL safety.
John Franklin, Head of Safety Promotion at the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) spoke about VAST at the October conference. Franklin said that aviation is getting safer and safer.
“This means that if we are going to reduce accident rates further, it is vital that we collaborate at a global level to learn from each other what works and what doesn’t,” Franklin said. “No single organization has all the answers. Through our collaboration with VAST, we are able to pool our ideas and also our resources to reach the rotorcraft and VTOL community in new and innovative ways that help to grab their attention.”
Gene Trainor is a technical writer/communications specialist for the FAA Compliance & Airworthiness Division.