Robinsons again under scrutiny
Highly experienced instructor Simon Spencer-Bower guides R44 pilot Will Simpson-Shaw through part of Mt Aspring National Park.
Some surprise has been expressed in the south over a recent recommendation by the CAA which wants to see changes in the way pilots of Robinson helicopters are trained after several were involved in fatal accidents in the Southern Lakes region.
The authority now wants everyone who flies Robinson R22, R44 and R66 helicopters to complete Robinson-specific safety training by the end of 2016. This would involve all commercial pilots completing such a course by the end of July 2016 and private pilots by the end of the following December. The CAA also wants trainee pilots on Robinsons to have completed 20hr flying time before going solo.
Helicopter operators have had little time to comment on this proposal which became mandatory on 22 May. The CAA is believed to have been moved by several recent Robinson fatal accidents that have occurred in the south, and while southern operators are surprised by this move at the present time, they generally accept that all safety rules are welcome.
In 2014 the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) completed a comprehensive report on an April 2011 fatal crash in Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka Helicopters instructor Graham Stott (31) was instructing trainee Queenstown pilot Marcus Hoogfliet (21) on an R22 aircraft. Both men were killed in the accident.
In its report, TAIC said the helicopter had been “operating in a high-risk situation” because it was at high altitude, close to its maximum permissible weight and entering an area of moderate to extreme turbulence. Conditions caused its main rotor blades to strike and cut off the tail boom. “With the loss of the tail boom and rotor, the helicopter would have been instantly uncontrollable,” the report said.
The pair had been returning from Haast and deviated from their planned route across the Matukituki Saddle, flying over nearby Waipara Saddle and into the Arawhata River valley. The instructor could have been unaware of the risks of flying that type of helicopter at near maximum weight at high altitude in moderate to severe turbulence, the report said.
TAIC found New Zealand’s regulatory oversight provided insufficient guidance and requirements for instructors, pilots and operators of R22s. It asked the CAA to review United States’ standards for Robinson helicopters.
Accident investigators found no evidence of mechanical failure in the wreck of an R22 helicopter involved in a fatal crash in November 2012. Wakatipu Aero Club operations manager and CFI, Julian (Julianne) Kramer died when the helicopter crashed in a remote area of the Criffel Range between Wanaka and Queenstown.
Investigators spent four days at the crash site on the Criffel Range before removing the wreckage for independent examination. While the TAIC was advised of the accident, it elected not to open its own inquiry, so the CAA carried out the entire investigation. It found the aircraft had been very close to its operational limits.
Some 70 accidents and incidents involving R22 helicopters have occurred in New Zealand over the last 10 years. The CAA says this higher than average accident rate is probably the result of the R22’s being the prime aircraft for helicopter training in New Zealand.
This is borne out by investigation which shows that about 80 percent of pilots training to fly helicopters worldwide do so on Robinson 22s.
At present the 154 R22s registered in this country make it the second most popular helicopter after the R44. Due to relatively low acquisition and operating costs, the R22 has been popular around the world not only as a primary rotorcraft trainer but also as a livestock management tool on large ranches in North America and cattle stations in Australia.
The R22 has a very low-inertia rotor system and the control inputs are operated directly by push rods with no hydraulic assistance. The flight controls are very sensitive and require a light touch to avoid overcontrolling. A student mastering an R22 generally has no problem transitioning to a heavier helicopter.
Experienced operators of helicopters in New Zealand, such as Brian Hore of Nokomai Station and Simon Spencer-Bower of Wanaka Helicopters, are almost unanimous in their opinion that Robinson helicopters are reliable.
However, the type’s relatively inexpensive purchase and operating costs have made it popular, leading to operators using them for purposes and in places for which they were not intended. This in turn has led to a significant number of accidents.
- Report by Peter Owens, photographs supplied by Wanaka Helicopters.
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