[Avionics Today February 24, 2014] The FAA released a final rule requiring a series of avionics, equipment, training and operational requirements in an effort to address the helicopter accident rate, which has significantly increased in recent decades.
First proposed in 2010, the rule was issued several days prior to the Helicopter Association International's Heli-Expo in Anaheim, Calif. The U.K.'s Civil Aviation Authority released a similar set of requirements at the same time to address offshore helicopter accidents.
Under the new rule, Part 135 helicopter operators will be required to equip their rotorcraft with radio altimeters, Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT) and to use higher weather minimums when identifying an alternate airport in a flight plan.
The rule also requires air ambulance operators to immediately equip with a Helicopter Terrain Awareness and Warning System (HTAWS) and, within four years, equip with a flight data monitoring system. Air medical operators will also be required to ensure their pilots in command hold an instrument rating, and identify and document the highest obstacle along the planned flight route before departing.
In January, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) added helicopter operations to its 2014 "Most Wanted List," stating that between January 2003 and May 2013, 1,470 helicopter accidents occurred with 477 fatalities and 274 serious injuries.
As the civil helicopter industry continues to grow with increasing demand for air medical operations in remote parts of the U.S., law enforcement support, and offshore oil and gas support, the newly required avionics and flight procedures are slated to help helicopter pilots improve safety.
During a recent webinar hosted by Avionics magazine, Dennis McCall, director of operations for Air Methods — one of the largest EMS operators in the world — called for more safety enhancing technology such as Night Vision Goggles (NVG), HTAWS and Synthetic Vision (SV) as standard on new helicopter airframes to improve situational awareness. In recent years, avionics manufacturers have increased their research and development of more advanced technology for helicopter airframes. Some of these projects are detailed in the February 2013 issue
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx calls the new requirements a "landmark rule for helicopter safety."