ATSB issues safety advisory after rotor wash injuries at hospital helipads

A helicopter approaches a hospital helipad.
Kgbo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Helicopter rotor wash incidents have raised serious concerns around hospital landing sites in Australia. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued a crucial safety advisory to address this issue.

The Rotor Wash Problem

The ATSB has been closely monitoring a series of incidents over the past five years, specifically focusing on cases where pedestrians were injured due to rotor wash around hospital helicopter landing sites.

These incidents have prompted the ATSB to take action and provide essential guidelines to prevent such occurrences in the future.

The safety advisory emphasizes the importance of collaboration between medical transport operators and hospital helicopter landing site operators.

Source: ATSB

It highlights the need for local procedures that effectively mitigate the risks associated with rotor wash, particularly concerning larger helicopters like the Leonardo Helicopters (AgustaWestland) AW139.


Concerning Statistics

According to the ATSB’s Aviation Data and Analysis Report, there have been 18 reported helicopter rotor wash incidents in the last five years.

Notably, nine of these incidents occurred at hospital landing sites. Even more concerning is that six of the nine incidents resulted in injuries to pedestrians who were within approximately 30 meters of the landing site.

In addition, flight crews were often unaware of the presence of pedestrians in these cases, which compounded the issue.

One significant revelation from the report is the absence of rotor wash-related injuries at hospital helicopter landing sites before the notable increase in the use of AW139 helicopters for medical transport operations from 2017.

This highlights the urgency of addressing the specific challenges posed by these larger helicopters in particular.

Mitigating Rotor Wash Effects

The ATSB report underscores several key factors contributing to the effects of rotor wash. These factors include the weight and size of the helicopter, main rotor size, disc loading, prevailing winds, and flight path.

Among these variables, the flight path is the only element that can be managed by the pilot in accordance with the operator’s procedures.

However, as the incidents have shown, pilots may not always be aware of pedestrians in the vicinity, making it difficult to adjust their flight paths accordingly.

To ensure the safety of pedestrians near hospital helicopter landing sites, the ATSB recommends implementing a range of risk controls. These controls include:

1. Physical Barriers

Installing physical barriers can help create a buffer zone between the landing site and pedestrian areas. These barriers act as a shield against the powerful rotor wash, safeguarding individuals nearby.

2. Warning Devices

Utilizing warning devices such as sirens and lights can alert pedestrians and ground personnel to the impending danger of rotor wash. High-visibility warning signs can also play a crucial role in this regard.

3. Visual Markings

Painted lines on nearby public thoroughfares can delineate safe areas and danger zones, ensuring that pedestrians are aware of the potential rotor wash danger.

4. Facility Inspections

Establishing a regular inspection schedule for the landing site facility and its surrounding areas can help identify and address safety concerns promptly.

5. Reporting System

Implementing a closed-loop reporting system ensures that any safety incidents or concerns are documented and addressed in a timely manner. This proactive approach can prevent future accidents.

In Conclusion

By addressing the specific challenges posed by rotor wash and implementing the recommended risk controls, medical transport operators and hospital landing site owners can work together to safeguard pedestrians and ensure safe operations.

Read the Safety Advisory Notice: Safety at hospital helicopter landing sites

Read the Aviation Data and Analysis Report: Downwash incidents at helicopter landing sites

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
5 Min Read
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