Vertical’s 10 biggest helicopter stories of 2018

With 2018 drawing to a close, it’s time for our annual review of the biggest helicopter stories from the past 12 months. Safety is always a top concern for visitors to verticalmag.com, and this year was no exception — more than half of our most-viewed stories this year touched in some way on the safety of flight. In a year of industry shake-ups, two particularly significant deals also drew thousands of readers to our website, as did our reporting on industry trends with potentially far-reaching impacts. Here, in descending order, are the 10 biggest helicopter stories on verticalmag.com in 2018 (click on the titles to read the original articles).

10. FAA Reauthorization Act could mean changes for air ambulance industry

Pending legislation could change how U.S. air ambulance providers bill for their services. Sheldon Cohen Photo
Sheldon Cohen Photo
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Since 2015, we’ve been reporting on the sky-high prices charged by some U.S. helicopter air ambulance providers, and the growing pressure from states, insurers, and patients to regulate them. That pressure appeared to be coming to a head earlier this year, when a version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives included language that could have opened the door to state regulation of air ambulance billing. Intense industry lobbying succeeded in striking that language from the version that became law, but the act still provides for the creation of an advisory committee to study the issue, which means that it is likely to remain a hot topic in 2019.

9. Against all odds: Dave Repsher’s helicopter crash survival story

Dave and Amanda Repsher with their faithful companion, Turq. Dave has made an extraordinary recovery since sustaining near-fatal injuries in the 2015 crash of a Flight For Life helicopter. The Repshers now hope their story can inspire positive action on issues they're passionate about, including helicopter safety. Amanda Repsher Photo
Amanda Repsher Photo

Nearly three years after flight nurse Dave Repsher sustained horrific burns in the crash of a Flight For Life Airbus H125 in Frisco, Colorado, he and his wife Amanda decided they were ready to tell their story. We were honored to have the opportunity to visit with this inspiring couple, who have played a major role in the push for wider adoption of crash-resistant fuel systems (CRFS) in helicopters. A provision that requires all newly manufactured helicopters to be equipped with CRFS made it into the final version of the FAA Reauthorization Act in October.

8. Bristow acquires Columbia Helicopters in $560M blockbuster deal

Bristow hopes to leverage Columbia's U.S. Department of Defense Commercial Airlift Review Board certificate to find new work for many of its 22 remaining H225s that are currently idle. Heath Moffatt Photo
Heath Moffatt Photo

The news that offshore giant Bristow will be acquiring heavy-lift specialist Columbia Helicopters came as a surprise to many when it was announced in early November. The deal will create the “leading global diversified industrial aviation service company,” according to Bristow CEO Jonathan Baliff, who will be stepping down as CEO and joining Columbia’s board of directors once the transaction is completed on Dec. 31. Among other things, Bristow hopes to find work for its idled fleet of Airbus H225s — which have largely been shut out of the offshore sector — through Columbia’s established relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense.

7. ‘Severe vibrations’ caused in-flight breakup of Bell 525 prototype during OEI tests

The first prototype of the Bell 525 Relentless crashed on July 6, 2016, halting flight testing on the program for over a year while the investigation into the accident continued. Sheldon Cohen Photo
Sheldon Cohen Photo

The fatal crash of a Bell 525 prototype in July 2016 was a tragedy and major setback for the program, which aims to certify the world’s first commercial fly-by-wire helicopter. In January of this year, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its final report on the accident, which found that the crash was caused by unanticipated severe vibrations as the aircraft attempted to recover rotor rpm following a one-engine inoperative (OEI) test at 185 knots. According to Bell, the program team has implemented all required corrective actions and successfully tested them in flight against the same conditions the accident aircraft encountered. The team has now recorded almost 900 flight hours and will begin cold weather testing in early 2019.

6. Sikorsky sells S-300 series product line to Schweizer RSG

Oceania Aviation will be the authorized seller for all new 300-type aircraft and exclusive parts supplier.
Mike Reyno Photo

After years of allowing the S-300 product line it acquired from Schweizer to languish as an unloved stepchild, Sikorsky announced in January that it was selling the series to Schweizer RSG, a new company affiliated with Rotorcraft Services Group in Fort Worth, Texas. For many S-300 operators who had given up hope on Sikorsky’s willingness to support the aircraft, their first reaction was, “Finally.” However, it remains to be seen how successfully Schweizer RSG can shepherd this legacy series into the future.

5. Norway H225 crash report recommends changes to Super Puma type design

The aircraft's main rotor landed 550 meters away from the main crash site. AIBN Photo
AIBN Photo

All 13 people on board were killed when an Airbus H225 operated by CHC crashed near Turøy, Norway, in April 2016. The accident — in which the main rotor detached from the helicopter, leaving the flight crew with no hope of recovery — resulted in a worldwide grounding of the H225 fleet. Many offshore customers refused to fly in the aircraft even after the grounding was lifted (which is why Bristow and other offshore operators have so many of the model sitting idle). Although Airbus claims to have satisfactorily addressed the safety issues that led to the crash, the Accident Investigation Board of Norway took a somewhat different view in its final report on the accident in July, suggesting that a “permanent solution” to the H225’s woes could require a redesign of the main rotor gearbox.

4. HeliTrak launches R22/R44 Collective Pull Down

The Collective Pull Down lowers the collective when a low-rotor rpm situation is detected. Terrence Wyman Photo
Terrence Wyman Photo

For generations of pilots who learned to fly on Robinson R22 or R44 helicopters, the importance of lowering the collective at the first sign of low rotor rpm has been seared into their consciousness. That’s no doubt why so many of our readers were interested in reading our review of the HeliTrak Collective Pull Down system, which automates this critical pilot reaction. Our reviewer Terrence Wyman concluded that this simple, relatively inexpensive design “should prove to be a very useful device for safety.”

3. Ejection Decision

Life-saving missions
Kaytlyn Wismayer Illustration

This nail-biting first-person account by Dan Foulds, a perennial favorite on our website, was originally published in 2016. We included it again on our list this year because of the way we reinvented it for a new audience — our more than 70,000 followers on Instagram. To read the Instagram version of the story, visit our profile @verticalmag and tap on the story highlight titled “Ejection.” The story was appreciated not only by pilots, but by passengers and crewmembers as well; as one of our followers put it, “This was fantastic insight into the mind of the pilot during some stressful decision making.” Watch for more of these Instagram stories in 2019!

 2. Study confirms looming helicopter pilot and maintainer shortage

According to a recent survey, two-thirds of HAI members are already finding it more difficult to locate and hire qualified mechanics. Skip Robinson Photo
Skip Robinson Photo

No story inspired more passionate debate on our website and social channels than this article about the predicted shortage of helicopter pilots and maintainers in coming years. The story highlights a study released earlier this year by the University of North Dakota and Helicopter Association International, which forecasts a shortage of 7,649 pilots and 40,613 certified aviation mechanics in the U.S. helicopter industry alone between now and 2036. Our readers had plenty of thoughts about the predicted shortage and what needs to be done to make careers in the helicopter industry more viable and appealing — now and in the future.

1. FlyNYON knew of safety concerns before fatal doors-off flight  

The accident helicopter was recovered from the East River on March 12. NTSB Photo
NTSB Photo

We reported extensively on the fatal crash in New York City’s East River on March 11, in which five FlyNYON passengers on a doors-off helicopter photo flight drowned when they were unable to free themselves from their supplemental harnesses. In fact, several of these articles were among our most-viewed stories of 2018, but none received more attention than this one, which revealed that pilots had warned FlyNYON of safety issues with its harnesses and emergency cutting tools weeks before the fatal crash. In August, we paid a follow-up visit to FlyNYON’s New Jersey headquarters to learn what changes it had implemented since the crash, but were still left with some concerns. The NTSB investigation into the accident is ongoing.

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One thought on “Vertical’s 10 biggest helicopter stories of 2018

  1. I wolud like to find the article about an R22 crop dusting, I can’t find it.
    Can you please tell me where to find it?

    Best Regards
    Rafa

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