FAA Invites Comment On Changes In HEMS Rules

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The FAA has revised its rules that govern the operation of helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), and has invited comment on the changes. The changes were made because the FAA determined "that safety in air commerce and the public interest requires additional hazard mitigation for HEMS operations," according to the FAA notice published on Friday. The revisions specify that HEMS pilots must determine a minimum safe cruise altitude during pre-flight planning by identifying and documenting obstructions and terrain along the planned flight path. HEMS pilots must also determine in pre-flight planning the minimum ceiling and visibility required to conduct the flight. The revised rules allow HEMS operations under IFR at landing areas without weather reporting only if an approved weather reporting source is located within 15 nm of the landing area or if an area forecast is available. The full text of the changes can be viewed in PDF files: Click here for Operations Specifications A021 and click here for A050. Comments must be received by Dec. 15. For more details, click here for the full text of the FAA notice.

The NTSB has also expressed concern about the safety of HEMS operations, and recently announced plans for a public hearing on the issue, Feb. 3-5, 2009, at its Washington headquarters. The board said the hearing is aimed at educating the board on the operational challenges of EMS services and helping members figure out how to stem the rising tide of accidents. "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 [previous] recommendations were implemented," says member Robert Sumwalt, who will chair the hearing. "This hearing will be extremely important because it can provide an opportunity to learn more about the industry so that possibly we can make further recommendations that can prevent these accidents and save lives." The proceedings will be webcast live. For more info, and a link to the webcast, go to the NTSB Web site.