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Air ambulance report cites many dangers
Patients and air ambulance crews are dying at an alarming rate because the air ambulance helicopter industry has little oversight and poor organization, according to a recent safety review.
The report was released by the Flight Safety Foundation, a research group in Alexandria, VA. The analysis identifies eight "very high" risks within the industry and 18 "high" risks.
The report comes at a time when the industry is facing increased scrutiny because of a sudden surge in crashes. Nine crashes killed 35 people, including six patients, from December 2007 to October 2008, prompting the National Transportation Safety Board to hold a public hearing to address the problem. Six patients were among the dead.
The recent report says part of the problem is that air ambulances are overseen by a patchwork of state and federal agencies that overlap or can leave some areas uncovered, unlike the tight regulation of the commercial airline industry.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a statement saying it welcomed the report. "It confirms what we believe: Reducing risk in helicopter EMS operations demands a systematic approach," the FAA statement says.
Not everyone was happy with the report. Manufacturer Bell Helicopter paid for the report but did not agree with the conclusions, so the company did not participate in the report's release. The report was released just prior to a congressional hearing on industry safety issues. There are two bills in Congress that aim to reform the industry.
The full report is available free online at www.flightsafety.org/pdf/HEMS_Industry_Risk_profile. pdf.