2014 Helicopter Air Ambulance Restrictions: What it Means for Medical Personnel

Medical Air Ambulance

New Restrictions, but the Pressure is Always On

2008 ranked as the deadliest year for air ambulance operations with 5 accidents claiming 21 lives. In 2014, responding to these events, the FAA adopted more restrictions on Air Ambulance and general helicopter operations to increase safety and lower accident rates. Now, let’s take a look at the operational changes and what they mean for medical personnel.

Only Part 135:
  • Previously, Air Ambulance Operations were both under Part 91 and Part 135. As, the FAA deemed that a majority of the recorded accidents occured during visibility and weather restrictions they proposed and adopted Part 135 minimums. This also included the adoption of Part 135 flight crew time limitations and rest requirements.
Adding Technology:
  • Perhaps the most expensive of the proposed changes, estimated to cost $9,000 initially and $500 annually thereafter for regular maintenance, the FAA, along with many operators, deemed radio altimeters and HTAWS important for the safety of air ambulance operations. Comments on the new additions include that the devices would “provide optimal situational awareness” and “multiple sources of low-altitude warnings to pilots.” Helicopter operators were required to install this equipment within 3 years of the adoption of the rule (by February 2017).

Air ambulance operations

Other Changes:
  • The FAA also required the institution of pre-flight risk analysis programs including identifying and documenting the highest obstacle along the planned route of departure, more safety briefings, and ensuring PICs hold an instrument rating.

But after these restrictions are put in place, what does it mean for air ambulance personnel? The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) wrote on the “Price of Refusal” and what it means to take or deny an emergency call. In fact, in some cases, it can even mean termination to deny a call. After an accident in November 2013, the board found one pilot’s “exceptionally high motivation to complete search and rescue missions increased his tolerance for risk, which played a role in the decision to launch an ill-fated flight in marginal conditions.” Although there is always immense pressure on air ambulance personnel, the FAA and many operators are continually backing the pilot’s right to refuse an unsafe mission due to any condition deemed dangerous. Now the question is: have these new restrictions changed the number of air ambulance related accidents? Stay tuned for our next blog to find out.


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