Joined: May 08, 2005 Posts: 1078 Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Posted: Thu Dec 22, 2005 7:40 pm Post subject: EMS Safety in USA About To Take a Change of Direction.
Safety of medevac choppers on FAA's radar
WASHINGTON ??? Federal regulators trying to halt a deadly spate of air ambulance crashes across the nation will soon announce greater restrictions on the medevac helicopter industry, according to government and industry documents obtained by USA TODAY.
The Federal Aviation Administration this fall began a yearlong program of additional inspections of air ambulance companies and expects to impose tighter restrictions on flying in poor visibility or in mountainous terrain, the documents show. The new requirements are spelled out in FAA drafts of rule changes.
Also, the National Transportation Safety Board is finalizing a special report on the industry that will recommend more far-reaching changes. The agency refused to discuss specifics but said the changes will address safety concerns.
"It is the NTSB's job to make sure that the safest service is provided to this important industry's customers," NTSB acting Chairman Mark Rosenker said.
The helicopter industry vowed in September to lower its accident rate by 80% in the next decade. But the helicopters that ferry the sick and critically injured continue to crash at near-record levels, and safety advocates say that regulators and the industry need to do more to reduce the crashes. (Gallery: Blackhawk Rescues in Iraq)
This year, 13 air ambulances have crashed. Six crashes were fatal, killing 11 people, including a patient who was being airlifted to the hospital after a car wreck in Arkansas.
"Some of the real underlying fundamental factors are still there, and they worry me," said Patrick Veillette, a pilot and safety advocate who has studied the accidents.
USA TODAY reported in July that air ambulance crashes and fatalities per year since 2000 had more than doubled compared with the 1990s. The newspaper found that many accidents were caused by pilots who repeatedly flew into prohibited or dangerous conditions. Federal rules exempted helicopters from some of the most basic safety requirements for airlines.
Officials at the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates the industry, say they are tightening standards. "We're moving forward in a strong, coordinated effort with industry to raise the safety bar," FAA spokesman Greg Martin said.
"The bottom line ... is we have to improve safety," said Tom Judge, safety chief for the Association of Air Medical Services, the industry's trade group.
Government guidelines that recently went into effect encourage air ambulance companies to train their pilots using the same methods credited with reducing accidents at airlines. Other actions expected soon include:
??Starting within a few months, air ambulance flights over mountains at night will have to adhere to stricter weather restrictions unless pilots have been trained to use night-vision goggles.
??Next year, the FAA will require air ambulance companies to start specialized training to teach pilots how to avoid losing control in bad weather and poor visibility ??? factors in many accidents.
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