FAA Proposes New Rules For Helicopters

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The FAA is set to propose a broad set of rules intended to improve the safety of helicopter operations that would require additional equipment, training and communications, bring changes to flight rules, and much more. The FAA's proposals cover air ambulance, commercial helicopter, Part 91 and Part 135 helicopter operations. They attempt to specifically reduce accidents that involve controlled flight into terrain, obstacle collisions, night accidents, and those due to inadvertent flight into IMC. All commercial operators would have to equip their helicopters with radio altimeters. Helicopters carrying medical personnel would be conducted under Part 135, which means they would include applicable flight time and rest requirements, and load manifests. And the FAA intends to raise VFR weather minima and require additional VFR flight planning. The rules are set to be published on Oct. 12.

Specific to air ambulance operations, the FAA found that accidents generally increased from 2002 to 2008. Through that period, 2005 and 2006 saw a decline in accidents, but 2008 was the worst year on record. From 1992 to 2009, air ambulance accidents took 126 lives. The FAA estimates that the new rules (PDF) would cost the air ambulance industry about $136 million over ten years balanced against a $160 million benefit. Commercial operators would bear an $89 million coast with a $115 million benefit over ten years. The FAA plans to publish the rules Oct. 12 and will accept comments for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.