Does safety matter?

By Harri Heikkilä

Within a one year period, starting from October 2013, there were 31 fatalities in parachute flight operations in Europe. Accidents in Belgium, Finland, Poland and France made the year catastrophic.

Just to put things into perspective: There has been no fatal accidents for three years in commercial air transport for the operators based in EU*. Even the optimistic estimate of the amount of the carried passengers in jump planes is less than one percent compared to the amount of pax in European commercial air transport.

The way how the production of the flight operations for skydiving purposes is arranged in Europe is a big mess. A huge share of the operations is conducted as private flying. Although the volume of operations can easily reach the scale 10 000 - 50 000 paying passengers a year and aircrafts such as Cessna Caravan, Pilatus Porter, Twin Otter etc are used. Typically operations are exceptionally highly organised to be private flying. They are offered typically for the market with tough competition.

To conduct operations under the rules of private flying - or non-commercial operations - means there is typically no professional control over the operations. It often means pilots with just hobby flying background. Pilots who are not professionals. There may be no safety management systems whatsoever. It means there may be good and thorough training for the pilots or not.

There may be high operating standards or not. The difference between professional and safe operation of jump aircraft is not just to have a pilot with CPL sitting in the cockpit. It’s always the whole entity of the decisions the operator makes. Still having a trained professional flying the aircraft is one of decisions.

While talking about parachute flight operations conducted as non-commercial operations we are talking about giving up well known aviation industry standards which are there for safety and have been built in last hundred of years. These standards were not created to make life of the pilots more miserable or to make DZ operator lose money. They are there for safety. For less incidents and accidents. Less dead people.

If the parachute flight operations in Europe in general are compared to any branch of the aviation industry which is serious with safety, it's no surprise we had 31 fatalities in just less than 12 months. The accident investigation reports from Belgium and Finland should be available in early 2015. If we decide to carry on like this, nobody knows what will follow. There might be good seasons and there might be worse. Does safety matter? * Ref: EASA safety review 2012, EU commission research: Increasing the sustainability of air transport 2013

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About author

Harri Heikkilä (Harri Heikkilä)

Harri is pilot and safety professional. Before going pro he has flown gliders and other recreational airplanes. By the time Harri has matured to be a true aviation safety professional and has worked with many modern EASA Part 145, AOC and ATO organizations. Harri is currently chief pilot and chief safety officer at Aviastar Helsinki.

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