Watch for the NTSB soon to release recommendations intended to improve the safety of EMS helicopter operations.
Safety of emergency medical services flights
Helicopter operators flying air medical operations have always had a keen interest in safety, but a spike in accident and fatality statistics in the last five years has intensified concern throughout the industry. Representatives from a number of helicopter EMS task forces gathered in Dallas recently to discuss procedures for improving the safety of their operations.
The FAA has conducted a review of accidents involving commercial emergency medical services (EMS) helicopters between January 1998 and December last year. It offers evidence that controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), inadvertent flight into IMC and lack of operational control were predominant factors, particularly at night and in low visibility. “Of the 27 fatal helicopter EMS accidents, 21 occurred during night operations.
The Aerospace Industries Association recently reported that shipments of U.S. civil helicopters reached an all-time high in 2005. How indicative is this of the overall health of the rotorcraft industry?
Terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS) designed specifically for helicopters may soon be in hot demand, following the January 25 release of a report by the NTSB calling for the FAA to impose tighter safety guidelines for helicopter emergency medical service flights.
At a public hearing last month, the NTSB singled out allegedly less safe Part 91 operations in a special study on helicopter and fixed-wing EMS accidents. EMS aircraft must operate under Part 135 when carrying patients, passengers and organs, but may fly under Part 91 when only authorized crewmembers are on board. Between 1994 and 2004, the number of EMS accidents doubled.
EMS operators in Europe are providing some input in the ongoing debate in the U.S. about helicopter emergency medical service (EMS) safety. Reacting to a series of stories in AIN, Friedrich Rehkopf, managing director of German EMS provider ADAC Luftrettung (the flying arm of the country’s automobile club), was eager to highlight how the European approach to safety differs from that in the U.S.
The spate of high-profile business aviation accidents a little more than a year ago, many of which were Part 135 flights, has prompted industry experts to search for a link that might prevent the same events from happening in the future. There has been little public outcry for more government oversight because most consumers of corporate and charter aviation believe it probably already exists.
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