A very sobering article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal spotlights a serious safety problem. Over the past ten years 180 people have been killed or seriously injured in U.S. medical helicopter crashes. 2008 was the deadliest year so far. This week, National Transportation Safety Board hearings have examined how to make medical helicopter flights safer.
An FAA spokesman told reporters that so far roughly 40% of U.S. helicopters have been voluntary outfitted with collision-avoidance systems, and only about 11% have recorders.
We know that we can make these flights safer because Canada has already succeeded in doing so. Canada has not had a single fatality involving a medical helicopter flight since 1970! Among the differences, in Canada the minimum crew is comprised of two-pilots (versus one pilot in the U.S.), the helicopters are equipped with the latest safety devices (i.e. collision avoidance systems) and strict regulations govern conditions in which such helicopters are allowed to operate.