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How Dangerous are Helicopters?


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This debate rages on, but here are some interesting statistics brought up by a journalist. The claim is helicopters have 85 times the fatalies than cars per 100 000 hours. considering there are over 40 000 car fatalies per year in the US this is a bold statement.

 

http://fullfact.org/factchecks/helicopter_accident_london_deaths-28714

 

"On the other side of the Atlantic, Slate.com attempted to answer this question after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie argued that his use of taxpayer-funded helicopter flights was justified because they had a better safety record than cars.

Slate journalist Brian Palmer observed that:

Between 2005 and 2009, there was an annual average of
(PDF) per 100,000 flying hours in non-military helicopters. Over the same period, there were
per 100,000 population in the United States annually. Since the average American spends around
(PDF) in the car, that means the fatality rate per 100,000 hours of driving time is just 0.017. Based on hours alone,
helicopters are 85 times more dangerous than driving
. [Emphasis added]

This is of course a back-of-the envelope calculation which doesn't compare like with like.

So while we don't have enough comparable data to form firm conclusions about the relative safety of helicopter travel, it does seem that Kate Hoey was mistaken about increases in their use in the capital, at least in recent years."

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I'd say part of the disparity is that you have a much better chance of surviving a car crash than you do surviving a helicopter crash.

 

 

Helicopters are dangerous in that simple mistakes and oversights can be fatal. You can put 100 different pilots in the same helicopter, and that helicopter becomes a lot more and/or a lot less dangerous depending on who's making the decisions pertaining to that flight.

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And helicopters operate in much more hazardous situations. Helicopters are used when the equivalent of a "paved, well marked right of way" doesn't exist.

Edited by Wally
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Trying to compare cars to helicopters is just silly. Cars don't fly. Cars don't land in unimproved clearings on the top of mountains, or in deserts or jungles. Cars mostly just drive down well-designed streets and highways, from here to there, much more like airliners than helicopters, but even that is a stretch. Not to mention that nobody, and I do mean nobody, knows the actual rates of anything for helicopters. Any data are merely guesses, because there is no requirement for anyone to provide the FAA or any other agency with flight times, or incident/accident information. Part 91 and Part 135 are rather specific on what has to be reported, and don't include much. All flight time data is just a WAG, and could vary greatly either way. It's the same for automobiles - it's possible to check the mileage on the odometer, but how long did that take? Nobody knows. It could have mostly been done on the interstate at 75mph, or in urban traffic jams at near 1mph. No way to tell, other than a WAG.

 

It's just not possible to compare some things to others, and trying to do so is simply a waste of time.

Edited by Gomer Pylot
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Perhaps it would be better to compare the corporate helicopter fatality rate to cars, since they are both used as direct means of travel. Its almost like adding in the fatalities of NASCAR and drag racing when they are using the vehicle for a different purpose. I'm kind of tired so l'm probably thinking of this the wrong way. They left out military helicopter because they operate in dangerous environments. Same can be said for a lot of civilian operators.

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Of course helicopters are dangerous. Anyone who says they are not is either in denial or doesn't want to scare customers away. However, as with anything, risks can be mitigated by good maintenance practices, good pilot judgement, and safe flying techniques. Lets not kid ourselves though. Mkay? Motorcycles are dangerous too. They are unforgiving and it is tempting to do stupid things with them. But I've been riding one for decades and never had an accident because I am extremely cautious. Every day before I fly or ride, I think to myself "today could be the day", and I do everything in my power to make sure that doesn't happen. I like what Spike said about "fools rush in, fools rush out." In the hover check tread. This is true about a lot of things, not just flying.

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Another "apples and oranges" comparison!

 

- A car driven alone is safer than a helicopter flown alone.

- A pilot is better trained, and more safety conscious than a driver.

- Helicopters operations are more commercial and military, and therefore more dangerous than what most cars are used for.

- If a helicopter veers off course by a few feet, its no big deal, but if a car on the freeway veers off course by a few feet, it causes an accident!

- If your engine stalls out in a car, just coast to a stop on the side of the road. If a helicopter engine stalls out, you drop from the sky!,...although a pilot is better trained to handle emergencies, as mentioned above.

 

The list goes on...

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This debate rages on, but here are some interesting statistics brought up by a journalist. The claim is helicopters have 85 times the fatalies than cars per 100 000 hours. considering there are over 40 000 car fatalies per year in the US this is a bold statement.

 

http://fullfact.org/factchecks/helicopter_accident_london_deaths-28714

 

"On the other side of the Atlantic, Slate.com attempted to answer this question after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie argued that his use of taxpayer-funded helicopter flights was justified because they had a better safety record than cars.

Slate journalist Brian Palmer observed that:

Between 2005 and 2009, there was an annual average of
(PDF) per 100,000 flying hours in non-military helicopters. Over the same period, there were
per 100,000 population in the United States annually. Since the average American spends around
(PDF) in the car, that means the fatality rate per 100,000 hours of driving time is just 0.017. Based on hours alone,
helicopters are 85 times more dangerous than driving
. [Emphasis added]

This is of course a back-of-the envelope calculation which doesn't compare like with like.

So while we don't have enough comparable data to form firm conclusions about the relative safety of helicopter travel, it does seem that Kate Hoey was mistaken about increases in their use in the capital, at least in recent years."

 

If that information was accurate and true of all helicopter operations do you believe the leaders of every nation would be transported daily via helicopter?

 

As others said. Its apples to oranges, and not all of the data is there.

 

Helicopter safety varies alot based on the operator, and the mission.

 

You can do anything you want with statistics. the 13.2 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people matches my calculations. The hours spent in cars looks grossly over-inflated. The FMCSA reports 38,588 road fatalities in the US in 2006, and 2,989,807,000,000 total road miles traveled. The FMCSA site publishes a fatality rate of 1.5 fatalities per 100 million(road) miles.

http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/facts-research/facts-figures/analysis-statistics/cmvfacts.htm

 

Using a time based approach is going to bias the numbers towards cars (because they are slower) than a distance based approach anyway

 

Using the above stats of 1.44 fatalities per 100,000 flying hours...

To achive the same rate of fatalities (1.5 fatalities per million (air) miles) a helicopter would have to average 1000miles per hour of operation.

 

Pick an average speed for helicopter operations I'll use 100mph for easy math and it comes out with helicopters 10 times more dangerous than driving, not 85. The methodology isn't perfect but I think the result is more accurate.

 

Edited by 500F
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  • 3 years later...

If you follow the correct safety checks when either becoming a helicopter pilot or using a helicopter, then helicopters are actually very safe. These safety checks are written in the source below which involve checking you're fit to fly, checking weather and other important things to think about before flying.

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Slate journalist Brian Palmer observed that:

Between 2005 and 2009, there was an annual average of 1.44 fatalities (PDF) per 100,000 flying hours in non-military helicopters. Over the same period, there were 13.2 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population in the United States annually. Since the average American spends around 780 hours per year (PDF) in the car, that means the fatality rate per 100,000 hours of driving time is just 0.017. Based on hours alone, helicopters are 85 times more dangerous than driving. [Emphasis added]

 

 

 

The average "american" doesn't spend 780 hours a year in a helicopter, and neither does the average helicopter pilot. The average driver is expected to be in multiple car collisions in his or her lifetime. The average pilot is not.

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This chart would appear to be the reason why it's so difficult and expensive for pilots to purchase life insurance. You can have pretty much any other job and USAA will insure you but pilots they want nothing to do with.

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  • 9 months later...
  • 2 years later...
On 8/5/2016 at 3:20 PM, avbug said:

The average driver is expected to be in multiple car collisions in his or her lifetime. The average pilot is not.

The average driver is not expected to be in multiple fatalities in their lifetime.  The average helicopter pilot is.

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You take calculated risk every time you go and fly. It’s how you manage that risk, how you plan ahead for it, and deal with it that makes it dangerous or not dangerous.

One thing is sure, dangerous or not, it’s unforgiving of poor decision-making

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Edited by iChris
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