FAA Will Develop New HEMS Rules

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Last week, during a hearing convened by the House Aviation Subcommittee to address safety issues regarding the use of helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), an FAA spokesman said the FAA has reversed its previous stand that the current rules were adequate, and new rules will be forthcoming soon. "We recognize that relying on voluntary compliance [with suggested safety standards] alone is not enough to ensure safe flight operations," said John Allen, the FAA's director of flight standards. "The FAA Rulemaking Council has given approval to begin drafting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which we are aiming to have published in late 2009 or early 2010." Allen also said the FAA does not support new legislation now in play in Congress that would empower states to impose more regulations on HEMS or require HEMS operators to comply with Part 135 procedures. "The FAA does not believe that new safety legislation is needed at this time," he said. Matt Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Association International, also testified at the hearing, and said FAA action is too slow. "Congress should direct the FAA to review its current rulemaking procedures and revise same to expedite implementation of beneficial safety initiatives, when appropriate," Zuccaro said.

The FAA said its upcoming rulemaking effort will consider issues such as whether terrain warning systems and radar altimeters should be required, imposing stricter weather minimums, making operational control centers mandatory for operators with 10 or more aircraft, requiring flight monitoring and recording devices to be installed on HEMS helicopters, mandating more pilot training, and changing the rules so it's easier for HEMS pilots to fly IFR. Click here for a full summary and video of the hearing, along with complete written testimony from each of the participants.