(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed broad new rules for helicopter operators Thursday, including air ambulances, which, if finalized, would require stricter flight rules and procedures, improved communications and training and additional on-board safety equipment.
“This is a significant proposal that will improve the safety of many helicopter flights in the United States,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “The FAA’s initiatives have helped the helicopter industry make progress on many safety issues, but it’s time to take steps towards mandating these major safety improvements.”
Under the proposed rules, operators would use the latest on-board technology and equipment to avoid terrain and obstacles. The proposal also contains provisions which, if finalized, would require operators to use enhanced procedures for flying in challenging weather, at night, and when landing in remote locations.
“We can prevent accidents by preparing pilots and equipping helicopters for all of the unique flying conditions they encounter,” said FAA administrator Randy Babbitt. “These new rules are designed to protect passengers, patients, medical personnel, and pilots.”
Since August 2004, the FAA has promoted initiatives to reduce risk for helicopter air ambulance operations. While accidents did decline in 2005 and 2006, 2008 proved to be the deadliest year on record with six accidents that claimed 24 lives. Overall, from 1992 through 2009, 135 helicopter air ambulance accidents claimed 126 lives. From 1994 through 2008, there were also 75 commercial helicopter accidents -- excluding air ambulances -- that resulted in 88 fatalities.
The estimated cost of the proposal in present value for the air ambulance industry is $136 million with a total benefit of $160 million over 10 years. The cost for other commercial operators is $89 million with a total benefit of $115 million over 10 years.
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