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Sue Guinn Legg

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FAA puts brakes on new air ambulance safety rules

April 17th, 2014 9:30 pm by Sue Guinn Legg

FAA puts brakes on new air ambulance safety rules

Implementation of new FAA Air Ambulance Rules previously set to take effect next week have been delayed until April 2015. Wings Air Crew L/R Tim Cox (Paramedic), Mike Chash (Flight Nurse), and Tony Hester (Pilot). (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)

The Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday delayed for one year the implementation of a broad new set of stricter air ambulance safety regulations previously set to take effect next week.

The delay was announced in statement posted by the FAA on the national register shortly before noon on Thursday and appeared to take the emergency flight service at least one internationally known Tennessee hospital by surprise.

Earlier Thursday morning the LifeFlight service at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville issued a statement applauding the new FAA mandates for improvements in communications, training and on-board equipment to bolster the safety of industry.

LifeFlight and officials with Vanderbilt’s emergency department called the more stringent regulations “the most significant improvements to helicopter safety in decades.”

“We’re disappointed they’re delaying these rules,” Jerry Jones, a communications team member at Vanderbilt said after learning of the FAA’s one year delay in of the new standards implementation early Thursday afternoon.

New requirements delayed until next April include enhanced safety procedures for flights in adverse weather, night flights and landings in remote locations. According the FAA, deadlines for compliance with new and stricter FAA rules regarding on-board equipment for avoiding terrain and obstacles to go into effect over the next three years and flight data monitoring systems to be required within the next four years remain in place.

The FAA statement reads, “In response to industry feedback and so that the FAA can develop detailed guidance materials, the FAA is extending the compliance deadline for the helicopter safety rule by one year to April 22, 2015. This will provide the industry with necessary FAA materials and adequate time to adapt their manuals and provide training to pilots.” The deadline for compliance with new equipment requirements phasing in over the next three years will remain unchanged and will become effective by April 24, 2017 with the exception of operations control centers to be in place by 2016 and flight data monitoring systems required by 2018, the FAA said.

Officials with Wings Air Rescue, the air ambulance service at Mountain States Health Alliance, and Med-Trans, the air medical transport company the provides the helicopters, flight equipment and pilots used by Wings, said the new and stricter safety regulations have been many years in the making and were developed by the FAA with much input from the industry.

Keith Treadway, regional aviation manager for Med-Trans, said while Wings and Med-Trans have already met and exceeded the new rules previously set to take effect on Tuesday and will soon be 100 percent compliant with those to be phased in over the next three years, others in industry are not as prepared and have requested more FAA guidance on how to comply.

In light of that need for guidance, Treadway said FAA’s delay on Thursday “was probably the prudent thing to do.”

According to Treadway, the move for the heightened safety standards was initiated several years ago as the result on an unacceptable number of accidents and the new regulations were formulated by the FAA in a long running collaboration with the industry. “We are very supportive of the needed standardization of safety parameters,” he said. “This levels the playing field so that all of us across the industry are compliant with the same rules. We embrace it.”

Brad Deutser, spokesman for PHI, the medical flight company that provides the helicopters and pilots used by Wellmont Health System’s WellOne air ambulances service, said PHI has continuously worked with the FAA on the new safety standards and will work with the federal regulatory agency over the next year on their “enforcement, which is an important part of this.

“We’ve been working on this all along. We’re virtually there and we will continue to progress,” Deutser said.

“Our company absolutely agrees with the logic and the spirit of what the FAA is trying do to so. We routinely meet the FAA and we’re a partner in however we can continue to make safety a priority in the industry.”

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