The WG was created in April 2010, upon request of several ECA members. ECA represents some 1,500 helicopter pilots. Helicopter safety is far behind fixed-wing safety and it is therefore essential that we work on improving helicopter safety in Europe and worldwide. For more information on the aims and tasks of the WG, please read its Terms of reference.
As for fixed-wing, FTL is one of the main issues the WG. In April 2012 the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) decided to take up the challenging task of harmonizing the rules at EU level. In this context, the HEL WG drafted two documents, ‘ideal’ FTL schemes, one for CAT Operations and one for HEMS operations. EASA started to work on HEMS and EMS by airplanes in April 2012, where we have 2 ECA representatives, one HEMS pilot and one EMS airplane pilot. In 2017 – the work on these rules is at the finish line, and we are expecting an NPA in the second half of 2017.
An important agenda item for HEL WG remains the integration of unmanned aircraft into the existing airspace. Even below 500 ft AGL there is a lot of air traffic, e.g. air ambulances, police or fire fighting, border control, military and newsgathering, manned helicopters/aircraft performing their tasks. RPAS, even light ones below 1 kg, can cause significant or even catastrophic damage to helicopters in case of a collision due to the number of vulnerable, critical components, such as the tail rotor or main rotor head. This area is therefore carefully monitored by the Heli WG.
Search and Rescue and Firefighting operations are another big issue. These operations, which involve high risk for the crew, have very bad safety statistics and ECA is striving to have these operations regulated at EU level. However, there is strong reluctance from the EU and EASA. A lot of lobbying is foreseen in this area to have our concerns taken on board.
Reaching the helicopter pilots is another challenge. The HEL WG therefore looks into how best to communicate towards pilots and make them aware about the work ECA is carrying out.
Since 2011, ECA participates in the EASA Annual Rotorcraft Symposium that takes place in December each year, to raise our positions.