FAA Says Emergency Medical Helicopters Need Safety Improvements

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Three men died last weekend when an emergency medical-services helicopter crashed near Madison, Wis., and this week the FAA responded with an update on its work to address safety concerns about such flights. The NTSB reported on the helicopter emergency medical services fleet in 2006, and asked the FAA to impose stricter requirements on all such operators. "While the FAA has not ruled out proposing new or changing existing rules, the agency has prompted significant short-term safety gains that do not require rulemaking," the FAA said in a statement on Tuesday. The agency said it is focusing on better training for flight crews; encouraging the use of technology such as night-vision goggles, radar altimeters, and terrain awareness and warning systems (though such systems don't work optimally in helicopters, the FAA says); and more detailed, airline-type FAA oversight for operators. "Safety improvements are needed," the FAA said.

Last weekend's fatal crash occurred shortly after takeoff on Saturday night, when the helicopter hit a wooded hillside. The crew did not have either night goggles or a terrain warning system on board. Air Methods, based in Denver, was the operator for the helicopter that crashed. An official of the company told The Capital Times on Monday it is installing the goggles and terrain warning gear as quickly as possible on its fleet of 330 aircraft.