HAI Convention News

EMS safety slow-going at FAA

 - February 22, 2010, 6:31 AM

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its 2010 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements last week, upgrading its assessment of  the FAA’s action to improve the safety of emergency medical services (EMS) flights from red (unacceptable response) to yellow (acceptable response-progressing slowly).

NTSB added EMS safety to its Most Wanted List last year and has made a series of recommendations to the FAA aimed at improving the safety of EMS. These included conducting all flights with medical personnel on board in accordance with commercial operating regulations (Part 135); developing and implementing flight-risk evaluation programs; requiring formalized flight dispatch and flight-following procedures, including up-to-date weather information; and installing terrain awareness and warning systems on aircraft.

The FAA announced it will issue a proposed rule in mid-2010 that will address these NTSB recommendations. The proposed rule also will consider such issues as radar altimeters for all Part 135 helicopters; Part 135 weather minimums for all legs of a helicopter EMS flight; flight-data monitoring devices that perform the function of cockpit voice recorder/digital flight data recorders on EMS helicopters; facilitating more IFR operations by permitting helicopter EMS operators to continue IFR approaches into hospitals or airports using weather reports from nearby stations rather than requiring weather reports specifically from the destination location; and requiring pilots in commercial operations to annually demonstrate recovery from in advertent flight into IMC.

The latest Most Wanted List added the issue of improving oversight of pilot proficiency. The FAA’s response was unacceptable because of two recommendations that date back to 2005, calling on the agency to require airlines to obtain histories of flight check failures by pilot applicants and require special training programs for pilots who have demonstrated performance deficiencies.

Another issue designated red is a requirement for image recorders, which the Board has requested because CVRs and FDRs do not show the critical cockpit environment leading up to an emergency. The Board has asked for image recorders for large transport-category aircraft and for smaller aircraft that do not otherwise have recording devices.   

Upgraded from red to yellow were improving runway safety and crew resource management (CRM) for Part 135 carriers.

Runway safety has been on the Most Wanted List since its inception in 1990, although runway accidents and incidents continue to occur. The NTSB has a series of recommendations aimed at preventing such occurrences.

CRM was added because the Board has investigated a number of Part 135 on-demand operators where such training was not provided, and errors by the crew led to accidents.