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Robinson helicopter boss pushing for watchlist removal

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 13/03/2018
A Robinson R44 similar to the one involved in a fatal crash in Northland. File photo. © Ian Kirk / Wikicommons A Robinson R44 similar to the one involved in a fatal crash in Northland. File photo.

Robinson helicopters' flight safety director is confident presenting new information to officials in New Zealand today will get the company's aircraft removed from a safety watchlist.

The Department of Conservation banned its staff from flying in Robinson R22, R44 and R66 model helicopters because of safety concerns following a crash in October 2016.

The helicopters have featured in 143 helicopter crashes in New Zealand since 2000 - 21 of which were fatal. Those 21 accidents make up 48 percent of New Zealand's total fatal helicopter crashes in the 17 years between 2000 and 2017.

Robinsons make up about 35% of the helicopters in New Zealand.

Five other government agencies have suspended the use of Robinsons while the aircraft are on a Transport Accident Investigation Commission safety watchlist.

Robinson Helicopter Company director of flight safety Bob Muse said some good things had come out of the watchlist.

"A lot of awareness was put on flight safety, accidents, training, and there have been very positive things that came from the watchlist but we really don't think that it was needed for us to be put on a watchlist.

"My hopes from today's meeting with TAIC ... is to share new information, things that we've been working on that they specifically requested in the watchlist."

He maintained the company's line that the crashes were because of pilot error, and training gaps, rather than a problem with the aircraft.

"We looked at what was occurring down in New Zealand, and if you look at the TAIC accident report that they put together ... pointed out that there were pilots in New Zealand who were practicing and demonstrating in-flight manoeuvres that are prohibited in our aircraft.

"TAIC goes on to say of particular concern are reports of demonstrations that amount to experimentation.

Many of the crashes have been because of what is known as mast bumping - contact between an inner part of a main helicopter blade and the main rotor drive shaft, which usually results in the helicopter breaking up in flight.

Mr Muse said it was a problem that was not unique to Robinson models.

"There are hundreds, thousands of New Zealand helicopter pilots who are great pilots who have done everything right, but there is a culture in New Zealand - not that Robinson has pointed out but TAIC and the CAA - they've pointed it out that it occurred in other helicopter accidents.

"Any two-bladed rotor systems on helicopters are susceptible to low-g mast bumping. When you become a helicopter pilot you have to go through standards and you're educated to this, and it's something that all pilots who fly two-bladed helicopters are aware of.

He said Robinson helicopters were the most common civilian helicopters in the world, they had not been placed on a watchlist in any other country.

"Any helicopter accident where loss of life occurs is beyond tragic, it happens to all the manufacturers of helicopters. And we take it to heart and we do everything we can to look at the cause of that and see what we can do to prevent it from happening again, either by education, training or even design change of an aircraft.

He said he believed the chance of Robinson being taken off the watchlist was pretty good.

"We are hoping they will look at it and see that the watchlist has served its purpose and it's no longer needed.

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