Safety rules for medical helicopters may tighten after 2008 saw an increase in the number of aviation accidents involving medical helicopters. Medical helicopters are designed to help save lives. When patients in remote areas need to be airlifted to hospitals or when patients need to be transported quickly to a facility with specialized care, medical helicopters can help.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there are 750 medical helicopters in use across the country. When an accident takes place with one of these helicopters, serious spinal cord injuries, fatalities, and brain injuries can result. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports that aviation accidents involving medical helicopters claimed seven lives in 2007. In 2008, that number had climbed to twenty-nine, prompting concerns about safety regulations.
There are many theories for the increase in accidents. Some claim that the number of medical helicopters has increased in the past few years, also increasing the risk. Some experts allege that medical helicopters require more equipment to be safe. For example, night-vision goggles, some allege, could help reduce accident rates. As well, the conditions in which medical helicopters must fly is often a consideration. Since medical helicopters must fly to emergencies, they must often fly through storms and clouds which delay other flights.
In 2009, the NTSB conducted hearings about medical helicopters and their accident rates. As a result of those hearings, operators of medical helicopters may soon have more federal regulations governing them. The NTSB has suggested to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the FAA institute rules which would require night-vision goggles or devices on medical helicopters and would require additional training for pilots of medical helicopters. The NTSB has also recommended to the FAA that medical helicopters have flight data recorders on board as well. The Air Medical Operators Association as well as other groups support new legislation if it will help prevent accidents.
Besides changing rules for medical helicopters and their crews, legislation may be reconsidered for emergency crews. When medical helicopters land at their destinations, emergency crews – including ambulance drivers and fire departments – are usually standing by to help. These crews are responsible for directing the medical helicopters to a safe place on the ground that is free from uneven terrain, wires, and any other dangers. Currently, emergency crews are given classes about landing zones. Further training might help emergency crews help medical helicopters even more.