The ATSB has issued a Safety Advisory Notice to both aircraft lifejacket manufacturers and national aviation certification authorities encouraging them to provide guidance to aircraft operators about how to fit a constant wear lifejacket so that it does not interfere with the proper fitment of seatbelts.
The Safety Advisory Notice has been issued as part the ATSB’s on-going investigation into the mid-air collision of two scenic flight helicopters at the Gold Coast on 2 January this year.
During the course of the investigation the ATSB has identified a potentially common lack of understanding in the broader helicopter tourism community about how ‘constant wear’ lifejackets should be worn in conjunction with seatbelts.
“Our investigators have identified that some passengers’ seatbelts in both helicopters involved in this accident were not fitted correctly, in part due to interference from their lifejackets,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell.
“However, it is very important to stress we have not attributed the outcomes from this tragic accident to the fitment of seatbelts and lifejacket interference, as the nature of the second helicopter’s collision with the sandbar would typically be non-survivable, and a range of other factors beyond seatbelts contribute to occupant safety in aircraft accidents.
“But our investigation has identified that there appears to be a broader issue across the scenic flight industry where there are misunderstandings as to how seatbelts and lifejackets should be worn.”
Mr Mitchell said an ATSB review of social media photos of passengers of helicopter tourism operations, both in Australia and internationally, established that incorrect fitment of seatbelts with constant wear pouch style lifejackets was prevalent.
Many relevant social media photos reviewed by the ATSB showed the seatbelt webbing or buckle was positioned above the lifejacket pouch or over it. This meant that the lap belt portion of the seatbelt was not low and tight across the passenger’s hips and was positioned either over the lifejacket, creating slack, or above the lifejacket, close to the passenger’s sternum increasing the risk of injury.
“This suggests there is a common lack of understanding in the helicopter tourism community, worldwide, about how to integrate constant wear lifejackets with seatbelts, so as not to reduce their effectiveness.”
Mr Mitchell said the ATSB has identified that lifejacket manufacturers and regulatory authorities have not provided any readily-available guidance to assist helicopter operators on how to position a pouch or yoke style constant wear lifejacket so as not to interfere with an aircraft seatbelt.
“Aviation lifejacket standards require operational instructions be provided in writing and on the lifejackets themselves. For constant wear lifejackets, it is reasonably foreseeable that they would be worn seated in an aircraft and while using the aircraft’s seatbelt. Yet there are no required instructions related to this in the relevant standards and the ATSB found no manufacturers opting to provide instructions.
“The ATSB encourages manufacturers of constant wear lifejackets to provide operating instructions and/or guidance material to operators of aircraft on how to wear and use a constant wear lifejacket with a seatbelt such that it does not interfere with the performance of the seatbelt during an accident,” he said.
“Further, the ATSB encourages certification authorities to modify lifejacket standards to include the requirement for instructions on how to wear constant wear lifejackets while seated and wearing a seatbelt.”
Read the Safety Advisory Notice: Fitment of constant wear lifejackets with seatbelts in aircraft