FAA Publishes New Air Ambulance Regulation

The agency said it reviewed about 4,000 accidents involving helicopters in the United States, of which 75 commercial helicopter accidents (88 deaths, 29 serious injuries, 42 minor injuries) and 127 helicopter air ambulance accidents (126 deaths, 50 serious injuries, 42 minor injuries) between 1994 and 2008 involved causal factors that are addressed in the proposal.

The Federal Aviation Administration published its 36-page proposed rule this past Tuesday intended to make helicopter air ambulance flights safer nationwide. The proposal will revise Part 91 visual flight rules weather minimums, require all commercial helicopters to be equipped with radio altimeters, require air ambulance flights with medical personnel aboard to be conducted under part 135 (including flight crew time limits and rest requirements), require Helicopter Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems (HTAWS), and require certificate holders with 10 or more helicopter air ambulances to establish operations control centers. Most of these changes fulfill NTSB recommendations made in recent years.

It says they would require training and testing on weather, navigation, flight-monitoring procedures, air traffic control procedures, aircraft systems, aircraft limitations and performance; and, more frequently, on topics specific to each certificate holder, such as aviation regulations and operations specifications, crew resource management, and the local flying area.

Along with requiring a load manifest for all part 135 operations, the proposal defines the role and training of operations control specialists for helicopter air ambulance operations. They will perform safety-sensitive functions “such as providing pre-flight weather assessment, assisting with fuel planning, alternate airport weather minima, and communicating with pilots regarding operational concerns during flight. These duties are similar to those of an aircraft dispatcher, and therefore,” the rule states, “operations control specialists would be subject to the restrictions on drug and alcohol use, and to a certificate holder’s drug and alcohol testing program as described in 14 CFR part 120.”

FAA estimated the proposal will cost the industry $225 million and yield benefits ranging from $83 million to $1.98 billion during a 10-year period.

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