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New Regulations for Helicopter Air Ambulances


Photo: Jared Davidson

After an accident, many victims rely on emergency services to deliver them safely to a hospital in order to receive life-saving medical treatment. While emergency medical transportation usually involves an ambulance, sometimes circumstances necessitate the use of a helicopter. Unfortunately, medevac crashes involving helicopters have been on the rise in recent years.

To combat this problem, the FAA recently issued new regulations that require helicopter operators, including air ambulances, to comply with stricter flight rules and procedures, including:

  • Additional training for pilots, with a mandatory instrument rating
  • Improved communications
  • Additional on-board safety equipment
  • Safety briefings or training for medical personnel
  • Implement pre-flight risk-analysis programs 

The rule, which goes into effect on April 20, 2014, represents the most significant improvements to helicopter safety in decades and responds to both government and industry concerns over helicopter operations.

The FAA said in a statement that it had examined helicopter air ambulance accidents from 1991 through 2010 and determined 62 accidents that claimed 125 lives could have been mitigated by the new rule. In 2008, five accidents claimed 21 lives, the deadliest year on record. From 2011 through 2013, there were seven air ambulance accidents resulting in 19 fatalities.

“This is a landmark rule for helicopter safety,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These improvements will better prepare pilots and better equip helicopters, ensuring a higher level of safety for passengers and crew.”

Like all aviation accidents, helicopter crashes can be caused by negligence, including pilot error, negligent maintenance, improper inspection techniques and defective equipment. Other problems can occur if there is not a complete crew of medical staff onboard or they lack proper training.



“Regulators Call for Tougher Helicopter Safety Rules” by Andy Pasztor and Doug Cameron, The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2014.