The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a final rule that requires helicopter operators, including air ambulances, to have stricter flight rules and procedures, improved communications, training, and additional on-board safety equipment. The rule represents the most significant improvements to helicopter safety in decades and responds to government’s and industry’s concern over continued risk in helicopter operations.
All U.S. helicopter operators, including air ambulances, are required to use stricter flying procedures in bad weather. This will provide a greater margin of safety by reducing the probability of collisions with terrain, obstacles or other aircraft.
Within 60 days, all operators will be required to use enhanced procedures for flying in challenging weather, at night, and when landing in remote locations. Within three years, helicopter air ambulances must use the latest on-board technology and equipment to avoid terrain and obstacles, and within four years, they must be equipped with flight data monitoring systems.
Under the new rule, all Part 135 helicopter operators are required to:
-Equip their helicopters with radio altimeters.
-Have occupants wear life preservers and equip helicopters with a 406 MHz Emergency -Locator Transmitter (ELT) when a helicopter is operated beyond power-off glide distance from the shore.
-Use higher weather minimums when identifying an alternate airport in a flight plan.
-Require that pilots are tested to handle flat-light, whiteout, and brownout conditions and demonstrate competency in recovery from an inadvertent encounter with instrument meteorological conditions.
In addition, under the new rule, all air ambulance operators are required to:
-Equip with Helicopter Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems (HTAWS).
-Equip with a flight data monitoring system within four years.
-Establish operations control centers if they are certificate holders with 10 or more helicopter air ambulances.
-Institute pre-flight risk-analysis programs.
-Ensure their pilots in command hold an instrument rating.
-Ensure pilots identify and document the highest obstacle along the planned route before departure.
-Comply with Visual Flight Rules (VFR) weather minimums, Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) operations at airports/heliports without weather reporting, procedures for VFR approaches, and VFR flight planning.
-Conduct the flight using Part 135 weather requirements and flight crew time limitation and rest requirements when medical personnel are on board.
-Conduct safety briefings or training for medical personnel.