In light of 35 fatal helicopter crashes over the last two years, the Federal Aviation Administration plans to propose a new ruling requiring medical helicopters to use collision avoidance systems. The National Safety Transportation Board has criticized the F.A.A. for not moving quicker on improving the safety of medical helicopters.
Prior to the new plans the F.A.A. stated that the helicopter operators could make changes on the safety concerns more quickly if they were made voluntarily. John Allen, the F.A.A.’s director of flight standards testified at a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, “We recognize that relying on voluntarily compliance alone is not enough to ensure safe flight operations.”
Medical flight operations has doubled over the last ten years and currently there are over 800 medical helicopters operating in the United States. It is not unusual for non-profit companies to own their own helicopters which cause competition for the emergency flights which increases the risks.
The proposal also calls for medical helicopters to have a terrain-awareness and avoidance system. The system can cost around $100,000 which would make it hard for some medical helicopter operators to obtain.
On a local level, in 1989 the Dare County, North Carolina EMS medical helicopter struck a communications tower on a return flight from Tidewater Hospital. A pilot and a flight-nurse were killed in that collision. A memorial now stands at the hanger in Dare County.
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