The FAA has released its long-awaited omnibus helicopter rule governing emergency medical services (EMS), Part 135 and Part 91 procedures, operations, training and testing and required equipment. The agency estimates that the new rule is expected to cost operators $311 million to implement over the next decade. It closely mirrors the FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) released in 2010. While most of the rule concerns itself with helicopter EMS, it does contain changes applicable to all Part 135 and Part 91 helicopter operations.
For HEMS the new rule:
• requires all flights to be conducted under Part 135 when medical personnel, not just the patient, are aboard and requires safety briefings or training for HEMS personnel;
• requires all EMS helicopters to be equipped with helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems (HTAWS) and flight data monitoring systems. The FAA rejected industry requests to allow NVGs and NVIS (night vision) equipment as an alternate means of compliance (AMOC) to the HTAWS requirement. “We’ve been requesting for years that the FAA include night-vision goggles in the rules, but they didn’t do that. What’s better for HEMS than night vision?” said HAI president Matt Zuccaro, pointing out that 90 percent of the HEMS industry, voluntarily, is already NVG equipped;
• requires an operations control center (OCC) for HEMS certificate holders with 10 or more helicopters and imposes drug and alcohol testing on OC specialists, rejecting industry complaints that this was overly burdensome;
• mandates FAA-approved pre-flight risk analysis be incorporated into the operations manual and requires pilots to identify and document the highest obstacle along the planned route of flight;
• establishes more stringent visual flight rules (VFR) weather minimums in uncontrolled airspace depending on terrain, operations in local areas and use of NVGs; ceilings of 800 to 1,000 feet during the day with two to three miles visibility and for night ceilings of 1,000 to 1,500 feet and visibility of three to five miles;
• allows IFR operations at airports without weather reporting;
• establishes procedures for transitioning between IFR and VFR on VFR approach to, and departure from, heliports or landing areas;
• requires pilots in command to hold an instrument rating.
For all Part 135 helicopter operations:
• mandates the installation or radio altimeters unless there is inadequate room to do so on the flight deck; HTAWS and multifunction displays (MFDs) that incorporate radio altimeters would be permitted;
• requires helicopters to be equipped with a 406-MHz ELT and occupants to wear life preservers on helicopter flights during the phases they are operated beyond autorotational distance from shoreline;
•requires pilots to demonstrate recovery from an inadvertent instrument meteorological condition (IIMC) encounter on an annual basis and to understand procedures for aircraft handling in flat-light, whiteout and brownout conditions;
• imposes more stringent IFR alternate airport weather requirement for rotorcraft based on minimums established in Operations Specification (OpSpec) H105.
For Part 91 helicopter operations:
• Revises Part 91 minimum VFR visibility standards in Class G airspace to one-half statute mile by day and one mile by night; clear of clouds if operating within one-half mile of a helipad or airport when landing.