February 9, 2009
According to the NTSB, 35 people have died in air medical helicopter crashes since February 2008. The board had been taking testimony, ending Feb. 6, from industry experts and operators to make safety improvement recommendations to the FAA. Some of the issues that were discussed were poor weather decisions by pilots, outdated technology, and insufficient training.
Also discussed were solutions to help reverse the alarming accident trend. Terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS), night vision goggles, and better flight-risk evaluation methods were some of the top suggestions.
Many of these same recommendations were proposed to the FAA in a 2006 NTSB report. Robert Sumwalt, who chaired the four-day NTSB hearings, said, “By and large, the FAA failed to act on them.”
He added, “We have seen an alarming rise in the numbers of EMS accidents, and the Safety Board believes some of these accidents could have been prevented if our recommendations had been implemented.”
The FAA said it would immediately pursue aggressive short-term safety initiatives. These include better training for weather decisions and an increased interest in TAWS and night vision goggles. The NTSB will again make recommendations to the FAA in the coming weeks. The agency will then decide on additional regulations and equipment requirements.
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