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Monday, September 14, 2009

Industry Contributes to HEMS Safety

Industry has stepped forward in support of the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) calls for new equipment, better training and operational changes to improve the safety of emergency medical helicopters,

Industry officials have embraced some of the Safety Board HEMS safety recommendations and recently sketched out plans to speed up changes to reduce risk.

For example, The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) announced that it is teaming up with several equipment suppliers and other industry groups to conduct a major test of the feasibility of installing data recorders on medical helicopters.

The FSF will study the feasibility of flight data monitoring on helicopter air ambulance operations (HAAO). Involved on this team are companies from all segments of the HAAO industry, including Aerobytes, Air Methods, Appareo Systems, L-3 Communications.

The objective is to determine if enough data can be collected from helicopters in order to determine trends and ultimately, make operations safer.

"We are optimistic that organized data collection from flights will lead to safer operations," commented FSF President and CEO William R. Voss. "We've seen that in commercial and corporate aviation with data collection being an integral part of safety management. We are all well aware of the safety challenges facing helicopter air ambulance operations and are determined to be a part in finding a solution."

The HAAO team first formed in the spring at the request of the FSF. The Foundation had received a grant to do some work in this area. The research will be used to assist the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) and will be offered to the entire air ambulance community in an effort to improve the overall safety of the segment. The concepts developed will assist the separate operators in implementing safety management systems. Among the challenges are making data recorders for choppers rugged and inexpensive enough to support their widespread use.

With the assistance of the FSF, an industry group in April released a comprehensive report on HEMS safety. Prepared by Aerosafe Risk Management, a consulting firm that has done helicopter safety studies, the report identified more than two dozen structural and financial issues that raise risks for emergency helicopters.

The report stated that the HEMS industry's overlapping oversight and poor organization has led to safety problems and last year's record number of fatalities.

The groundbreaking report released by the FSF identified eight "very high" risks within the air ambulance industry and 18 factors it labels "high" risks.

The safety review generated some controversy inasmuch as some HEMS companies objected to the report's conclusions. As a result, Bell Helicopter, which funded the study, stood back, allowing FSF to release the report, dubbing it a 'roadmap' for HEMS risk management.

The FAA said it welcomed the report. "It confirms what we believe: Reducing risk in helicopter EMS operations demands a systematic approach," the FAA said.

The assessment provides a comprehensive look at the risks facing the HEMS industry. FSF says an Industry Risk Profile (IRP), developed by Aerosafe Risk Management, provides a roadmap outlining proactive steps that the industry and regulators can follow in order to mitigate these risks.

Aerosafe developed the IRP using internationally recognized risk management standards. This independent analysis utilized a wide variety of data and perspectives from the HEMS industry. The IRP process is designed specifically to allow industry to step up and shape a way forward. The IRP highlights 26 key systemic risks, many of which are at the structural and oversight level of the industry.

Bill Voss, president and CEO of FSF, said "this is an innovative study that is calling for some of the very same safety tools that FSF has developed and used in the commercial and corporate aviation industry. These safety tools can be used not only for HEMS, but for any industry trying to mitigate risk."

The National EMS Pilots Association (NEMPSA) Board Chairman Kent Johnson "applauded the efforts of any agency or group conducting scientific research on safety and risk management in Helicopter EMS operations. We recognize all those who have made contributions to the recent IRP efforts and we hope that this research results in findings and recommendations that will be of benefit to the air medical industry."

The Foundation of Air Medical Research and Education (FARE) has partnered with the FSF to distribute the HEMS IRP. Dr. Kevin Hutton, FARE chairman, said "this unique document provides a comprehensive framework and important insights that will assist the HEMS industry to fund, develop, and standardize how safety and risk management are addressed, enhancing the health care community's ability to serve our nation's sickest and most severely injured patients requiring rapid transport to hospitals with the highest and safest level of care enroute."

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