Medical Helicopter Operators Pressured Into Safety Upgrades

Sept. 3, 2009


Federal aviation officials have called for a safety crackdown on medical helicopter after 35 people were killed in them within a 10-month period last year.

LifeLine, which operates four helicopters that pick up patients all over Indiana, will implement costly safety upgrades.

The company has a great safety record, but federal authorities contend that not every provider does,

6News' Rick Hightower


A 2008 crash near Greensburg killed a crew of three people. Three others survived a crash in Madison County in 2006.

LifeLine crews that lift off the pad every day in Indianapolis said they are committed to the safety enhancements.

"Overall, night vision technology, flying instrumental flight rules, the terrain warning systems -- any chance you have to enhance your operations in a safety way is going to be beneficial," said Shelly Maersch, LifeLine director.

FAA officials want to install autopilot systems on medical helicopters, as well as terrain awareness monitoring to help pilots navigate in poor visibility, night vision systems and flight data recorders.

Medical helicopters are now permitted to operate without collision-avoidance systems or black boxes.

Clarian Health said it has already ordered the equipment for its LifeLine fleet.

"All their recommendations would, in fact, enhance the safety of flying," said Werner Winkler, a LifeLine pilot.

LifeLine said it will complete installation and training on the new equipment in the first quarter of 2010.

The federal government is seeking to limit Medicare payments to flight operators who don't implement the new safety standards.

LifeLine To Implement Costly Enhancements

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