NTSB to Urge Operational Changes for Emergency Medical Helicopters

From the Wall Street Journal:

Federal aviation-accident investigators on Tuesday are expected to call for various equipment and operational changes to improve the safety of one of the most dangerous jobs in America: piloting emergency medical helicopters.

At a public hearing in Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board is poised to urge additional training for pilots of at least some medical choppers, expanded use of dedicated airways to help avoid obstructions in bad weather, and improved flight-data collection and weather forecasting. Safety experts contend that having two pilots would improve safety, compared to the single-pilot operations still used to make some medical transports.

The board also is expected to reiterate calls for widespread use of night-vision goggles. In the past, the safety board has recommended tighter dispatching safeguards and more-rigorous assessments of flight risks before pilots agree to transport patients.

However, even before the NTSB hearing, industry officials and government regulators have already begun to adopt some of these same measures.

The hearing comes nearly seven months after the NTSB highlighted safety problems faced by this segment of the industry, which suffered 13 crashes and 29 fatalities in 20008. By some measures, pilots of emergency medical helicopters had the most lethal jobs in the U.S., racking up fatalities at a faster clip than loggers and other historically risky professions.

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