ALEXANDRIA, VA – Testifying before a crowded hearing on the Oversight of Helicopter Medical Services, Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) President Sandy Kinkade offered an overview of the medevac helicopter industry and discussed the need for greater funding for airport and low-altitude infrastructure improvements, among other initiatives aimed at making patient air transport safer. The hearing was called by the U.S. House of Representatives Aviation Subcommittee to better understand and evaluate the complex, overlapping factors that relate to safe air-medical operations.
"Most people don’t realize the life-and-death role that emergency medical helicopters play in our healthcare system," said Kinkade. "But the critically ill and injured are airlifted once every 90 seconds in our nation. That's why it is important not to underestimate the value of air medical services – because the life saved might be yours or a loved one's."
Specifically, AAMS supports improving the low-altitude aviation infrastructure by expanding the Airport Improvement Program to include private-use hospital helipads, regional airports and other routinely utilized locations; and directing more Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding and research toward expanding the capacity of low-altitude, off-airport weather reporting. AAMS also is in favor of increasing the number of automated weather observation stations (AWOS) and utilizing such technologies as the Helicopter Emergency Medical Systems (HEMS) Weather Tool (www.weather.aero/hems).
Chief among the association's safety proposals is that all medical night-flight operations be required to either utilize night vision goggles (NVGs) or similar enhanced-vision systems, or be conducted strictly under instrument flight rules (IFRs), in a timeline established by the FAA and in coordination with air medical service providers. Today, AAMS recommended that Congress further this process along by appropriating funds for the FAA to expand its capabilities surrounding the certification and approval of NVGs or similar enhanced-vision systems.
In addition, AAMS has asked that funding and study be directed towards associated approach and departure procedures to facilitate a seamless transition from visual flight rules (VFR) to instrument flight rules (IFR). While noting that it is a strong proponent of mandated enhanced-safety technologies, AAMS also advised that such requirements offer operators flexibility in choosing enhancements that ensure the greatest safety suited to their unique operating environments.
To date, AAMS has taken several proactive steps aimed at increasing HEMS safety, including coordinating meetings between the FAA and air medical industry aviation experts, and holding a full-day Safety Summit last July aimed at identifying and incorporating effective cultural and operational safety enhancements.
For more information visit www.aams.org.