Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Turner (Mastery Flight Training Inc.)
“Last Sunday, five passengers aboard an Airbus Helicopters AS350B2 helicopter died when a tourist helicopter crashed into New York’s East River. The pilot alone survived.
The National Transportation Safety Board provided a brief update two days later:
· The pilot had contacted the LaGuardia Airport air traffic control tower for entry into the Class B airspace while flying at an altitude of 2000 feet. Approximately five minutes later, the pilot declared “Mayday” and stated that the helicopter’s engine had failed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the scheduled 30-minute aerial photography flight.
An online news report adds:
· The pilot said one of the passenger's bags may have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel shutoff button, leading to the crash that killed five passengers
As pilot-in-command we take on many roles:
- We’re responsible for thoroughly planning and masterfully conducting the flight.
- We are tasked with knowing the specific aircraft, its equipment and avionics to the level of an expert.
- We must be prepared to handle any procedure or technique the regulations, or the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH), or any of their international equivalents, can throw at us in any foreseeable normal, abnormal or emergency condition.E
- Equally important, we assume responsibility for taking care of our passengers… and for protecting them, and ourselves, from hazards that arise from their lack of familiarity with aircraft.
Passengers probably don’t know how their actions might potentially affect aircraft operation. It’s our job to brief them, to ensure they follow safety rules and suggestions, and to keep them from intentionally or inadvertently touching controls and switches.
Take a fresh look at your aircraft’s cabin from the viewpoint of a passenger:
· Where would you put bags and equipment you bring on board?
· What would you use as handholds, and where would you put your feet while boarding the aircraft?
· How might you move in your seat in turbulence, or while manoeuvring, or if working in the aircraft (for instance, taking photographs), or simply to stretch and move over time?
· Where might baggage and personal items go if bounced or kicked around in flight?
· How close are their hands, feet, body, equipment or baggage to flight controls, fuel selectors, door or window latches, or other moving parts?
· Where are the possible points of contact that could affect safety of flight?
After completing this cabin and passenger/baggage motion study, brief your passengers on specific places for their belongings in the cabin. Advise them where to step and hold on, and where not to step or grab. Point out specific things to avoid - controls, latches, power controls… and fuel controls.
What do you command when you accept responsibility as pilot-in-command?
· You are master of the aircraft.
· And you are commander of those aboard your aircraft.
As PiC you are responsible for the outcome, even including protecting your passengers from themselves.
Look at the Systems Description section of your Pilot’s Operating Handbook. It will describe the emergency exits and how to activate them. If you have any questions, ask your mechanic. And history shows that emergency exit windows are likely to open in flight if not expertly secured, so you may need a certificated mechanic to re-engage and safety-wire the latches if the exits have been used.
So, look at how the exits work now, but maybe you should wait until your aircraft is in for annual or condition inspection to actually pop them open.
An obvious LESSON from the helicopter crash is to have an emergency evacuation plan, because getting out of a sinking aircraft is extremely difficult and challenging. All the more reason to consider this week’s LESSON about preventing passenger-caused cabin hazards as a first line of defence”.