Can Your Customers Be Far Behind?
In the last six months, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in inquiries from operators that are seeking HUMS in response to an RFP requirement or, interestingly, to proactively differentiate themselves from other operators in an RFP process by signaling a heightened commitment to safety and operational excellence. Today, roughly 60% of our inquiries are driven by the need to win business versus a desire to improve operational efficiency or enhance safety for its own sake.
While civil aviation authorities have so-far mandated HUMS only in particular cases (for instance, UK’s CAP 753 requiring HUMS in civil helicopter transport in the North Sea) it seems clear that many contracting organizations are moving ahead of regulators.
We wanted to provide an explanation for this trend and unpack why HUMS is increasingly critical to marketplace success.
The Flying Public And Their Regulators Are Talking About Safety
In the last few years, we’ve seen a spate of VIP helicopter accidents: Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, French politician Olivier Dassault, and of course Kobe Bryant. Our industry is under pressure to enhance safety.
Three bills have been introduced in the US Congress around FDM and Safety Management Systems since 2019. In a conversation with HAI in December, FAA head Steven Dickerson said the agency is moving to require “certain operators” to implement safety management systems (SMS) in the spring of 2022 and the agency is considering requiring flight data monitoring to be included in SMS. In April the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for requiring safety management systems (SMSs) in all revenue passenger-carrying aviation operations as well as establishing flight data monitoring programs.
As the above makes clear, the volume and frequency of calls for FDM and FOQA is increasing.
If FDM is here. MCM is coming. And HUMS gets you both.
If FDM is fast becoming a can’t-live-without best practice, what about HUMS?
PHI and other large operators regularly integrate FDM and HUMS data to get a complete view into both how the aircraft is operated and how it is operating. In that sense, they capture both sides of the safety equation. And typically in the industry, practices from these large players migrate to the rest of the fleet.
OEMs agree that HUMS is on the horizon. As one OEM told us, “We are fully aware Flight Data and Machine Condition monitoring have become table stakes.”
Fortunately, HUMS actually encompasses both FDM and MCM (Machine Condition Monitoring). As Bob Sheffield, a member of the International Helicopter Safety Foundation’s executive committee, said “FDM and HUMS both use a flight-data recorder so it’s efficient for manufacturers to provide them as an integrated package.”
New contracts are specifying It: IOGP and BARS
Even if actual regulations for FDM and HUMS are a ways off, contracting entities are moving forward.
In the October 2020 edition of ‘Offshore Helicopters Recommended Practices’ the IOGP moved to recommend both Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring and Health and Usage Monitoring for all helicopters operating offshore.
In section 690-5 ‘Helicopter and Equipment’ Section 8 details the HFDM requirements and Section 9 does the same for HUMS. Noting the purpose of the requirement as “Ensuring the early detection of impending critical failures to facilitate timely corrective action,” the report goes on to specify system requirements:
Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS)
- 9C.1 The HUMS monitors vibration data of the following, using a combination of spectrum analysis and advanced diagnostic (proprietary signal processing) techniques.
- 9C.2 It includes a diagnostic capability for every dynamic component in the drive train:
- 9C.2.1 Engine to main gearbox input drive shafts
- 9C.2.2 Main gearbox shafts, gears, and bearings
- 9C.2.3 Accessory gears, shafts, and bearings
- 9C.2.4 Tail rotor drive shafts and hanger bearings
- 9C.2.5 Intermediate and tail gearbox gears, shafts, and bearings
- 9C.2.6 Main and tail rotor track and balance
- 9C.2.7 Engine health
Just as important, the mining-heavy Flight Safety Foundation’s Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) program now requires HUMS as a contracting standard for its members.
BARS is designed to provide organizations that engage contracted aircraft operators with a standard to assist in the risk-based management of aviation activities. BARS members include AngloAmerican, Freeport-McMoRan, Vale, RioTinto, and Glencore.
In response to Threat Structural or Mechanical Failure BARS offers Helicopter Vibration Monitoring as a control. In the Implementation Guidelines, the 2020 guide states:
10.5: Helicopter Vibration Monitoring
Helicopters on a long-term contract must have a plan endorsed by a Competent Aviation Specialist to fit a Health Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) or airframe and engine Vibration Monitoring System (VMS), where systems have been developed and approved for the helicopter type. The aircraft operator must follow procedures to routinely download and analyze data.
Finally, large companies are also requiring HUMS individually. For instance, the Shell Group Requirements for Aircraft Operations (SGRAO) has Mandatory Requirements for FDM/HUMS.
Even if it isn’t explicit, safety technology is an implicit basis for choice
Standards organizations are driving HUMS contract requirements in certain verticals, but there are many types of helicopter operations outside of oil and gas and mining.
While we haven’t seen similar standards yet in Utility, Tour, or Firefighting, for instance, we have seen evidence that operator selections are being made based on an operator’s actual and perceived investment in safety.
As Rogan Parker, CEO of Pathfinder Aviation, told us “We are seeing more and more of our end customers demanding safety enhancing technology and selecting operators who invest to keep their aircraft current. Foresight MX will give us a leg up in a competitive market and — given its predictive capability — we believe it will also help us speed and streamline our maintenance process.”
We believe the need to invest in robust flight and health monitoring systems will be especially important for operators carrying client passengers for hire. As Chris Young, Executive Director of TOPS told us,
“We know air tour customers have choices. And we find these customers select operators not just on price but on safety performance. A strong track record and a clear emphasis on higher safety standards sets certain operators apart from the pack.”
To wrap up, at GPMS we are seeing business imperatives driving helicopter safety technology adoption. FDM is basically here and HUMS requirements are imminent. And while regulators set the tone, we’re seeing end customers (as part of standard-setting bodies or as individual entities) actually driving things forward.
What’s your perspective? Get in touch below to let us know.