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Transportation board calls for increased medevac safety

The NTSB, spurred by last year's 12 EMS helicopter crashes, is pushing for more training and technology.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Sept. 16, 2009

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The National Transportation Safety Board is urging more pilot training and increased use of night vision systems to help make helicopter emergency medical services safer.

The NTSB also is seeking improvements in the collection and analysis of flight, weather and safety data, and wider use of dual pilots and autopilots.

Those were among 19 recommendations issued by the board on Sept. 1 (link). Last year was the deadliest on record for the HEMS industry, with 12 crashes and 29 fatalities.

"The pressure on HEMS operators to conduct their flights quickly, in all sorts of environments, makes these types of operations inherently more risky than other types of commercial flight operations," said NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman.

The NTSB, which lacks the authority to require changes, directed most of its recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency also said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should study payment structures for helicopter services and consider providing higher payments to services that adopt safety improvements.

Among other recommendations, the board called for HEMS operators to conduct scenario-based training for pilots, install and require use of night vision imaging systems, and equip emergency helicopters with autopilots.

The growing HEMS industry encompasses an estimated 750 helicopters, 20 operators and 60 hospital-based programs, the NTSB said. After last year's fatalities, the board placed helicopter transport safety on its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

In May, the FAA announced plans to introduce regulations by the end of the year or early in 2010. An FAA spokesman said the agency would consider the new NTSB recommendations.

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