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Improvements Called for in Helicopter Safety Following Fatal Nunavut Crash

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Mason Walker
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Improvements Called for in Helicopter Safety Following Fatal Nunavut Crash

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Deadly Helicopter Crash Spurs Call for Changes

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In 2021, a tragic helicopter crash occurred in Nunavut during a mission to survey polar bear populations on Griffith Island. This unfortunate incident resulted in the loss of two crew members and a wildlife biologist. The helicopter was owned by Yellowknife-based company, Great Slave Helicopters. The Airbus AS350 wreckage was later located by a search-and-rescue team from Resolute Bay, with no survivors found. The crash inspired a thorough investigation by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada.

TSB Recommendations for Improved Safety Measures

Following the investigation, the TSB issued four key recommendations to prevent similar tragedies in the future. These included improved pilot training for whiteout conditions, the integration of equipment for aiding pilots during poor weather, the development of standard operating procedures for adverse conditions, and new regulations to ensure pilot protection.

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Notably, the TSB highlighted that safety deficiencies in reduced-visibility operations have persisted for over 30 years. More concerning, the TSB report revealed that loss of visual reference accidents are more likely to involve helicopters than airplanes. This is due to a disparity in visibility limits, aircraft equipment, and pilot training requirements between the two types of aircrafts. The board stressed that Transport Canada and the industry need to take more action to address these safety concerns.

Addressing the Risks of Inadvertent Flight into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC)

The crash in Nunavut was largely attributed to a loss of visual reference and inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The pilot lacked the necessary skills to recover using flight instruments alone, and the helicopter lacked technology capable of alerting the pilot to the aircraft's height above the ground or rate of descent.

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The TSB has recommended that commercial helicopter operators be required to ensure pilots have the skills necessary to recover from inadvertent flight into IMC. They also recommend the implementation of technology to assist pilots with avoidance of and recovery from IMC conditions. In addition, they call for the development of standard operating procedures based on corporate knowledge and industry best practices.

Safety Measures Implemented by Great Slave Helicopters

In response to the crash, Great Slave Helicopters implemented several safety measures. However, there is currently no regulatory requirement for commercial helicopter operators to ensure pilots have the necessary training and technology to recover from inadvertent IMC conditions. Nonetheless, the TSB has issued a total of 10 recommendations to Transport Canada since 2010, all aimed at preventing IMC-related accidents in commercial helicopter flights.

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Canada's Response and the Way Forward

Despite the longstanding recommendations from the TSB, Transport Canada has yet to respond to the board's latest report. In the past, the TSB has suggested that Canada should consider following the lead of U.S. regulators in implementing improved aviation safety measures. The federal transportation minister has 90 days to respond to the TSB's latest recommendations.

The tragic helicopter crash in Nunavut serves as a stark reminder of the safety deficiencies in helicopter operations, particularly in whiteout or reduced-visibility conditions. The TSB's recommendations underscore the urgent need for regulatory changes and the adoption of industry best practices to prevent future accidents and save lives.

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