There are about 840 EMS helicopters operating nationwide. The fatal accident rate has doubled from the mid-90’s to the growth spurt seen in the earlier part of this decade. Since late 2007, 57 crew members and patients have died in these helicopter crashes. According to the FAA, the most frequent causes of these crashes were controlled flight into terrain, inadvertent flight into instrument conditions, and disorientation during night flight.
The FAA is now proposing to change the rules and add extra equipment to these flights in an attempt to improve safety. These changes would include:
- Installing a ground proximity warning system
- Tightening the restrictions that limit proximity to bad weather. Currently, pilots must stay half a mile away from clouds during the daytime and one mile away at night.
- Boosting bad weather training requirements for pilots so they are better equipped to escape from bad weather
- Installing flight data recorders. New, lightweight models need to be developed for helicopters first, though.
It looks like this is a win-win proposition. Lawmakers, families of crash victims and the aeromedical industry appear to be on board with these changes. Once approved, they would go into effect next year. Unfortunately for the families of crew and patients killed in these crashes, the changes can’t come soon enough.