Many Lives Are Saved, But Risks Remain High; Government,
Industry Stakeholders Work Together For Safety.
Medical Evacuation is a risky sub-set of general aviation, as
too many accident reports, including two this past week, painfully
and tragically remind us.
While one of those mishaps was a fixed-wing
plane, the danger is especially acute for medical evacuation
helicopter crews, who often land and take off from ill-prepared,
uneven, obstructed remote locations, frequently at night and in the
foulest weather, while under the psychological pressure that comes
with knowing a human life is hanging in the balance. Many operators
seem to have taken the 1800's Coast Guard catch phrase to heart:
"You have to go out, no one said anything about coming back." The
surprise may be not that so many such missions end in disaster, but
that so many don't.
The industry has
addressed this with numerous safety summits, newsletters,
dissemination of "lessons learned," and recurrent training. The
government's answer has been to pile on more regulations. Neither
approach has been truly satisfactory, as the safety trend lines are
still scarily negative. So industry and government are trying
something new -- working together!
On Friday, January 14, government and industry players,
including associations and actual operators, conducted an initial
public meeting of a task force that aims to tackle the thorny
problems of making an innately risky flying activity safer.
Previous EMS Safety Summits have included pilots, operators and
flight nurses. This one is important because it puts the people who
are taking the risks and the key regulators face-to-face to work on
"Today’s session was very productive," the Helicopter
Association International (HAI) reported, promising more details
soon -- and asking for further industry input, especially from the
smaller operators. "Don’t make the big operators do all the
heavy lifting; send us your ideas!" the association asked its
The industry was represented by HAI, the Association of Air
Medical Service (AAMS), and the National EMS Pilots Association
(NEMSPA), in addition to some of the largest EMS helicopter
operators. Government agencies at the summit were the FAA, which
hosted the meeting, and NTSB.