NTSB to hold hearings on medical helicopter safety
The National Transportation Safety Board has scheduled hearings to discuss the poor safety record of medical helicopters. While some safety problems may be inherent in the emergency work of these aircraft, since they are subject to pressure to fly in poor weather, their actual record is so bad it has maintained the attention of safety investigators for several years. When 18 people died in 2004, the NTSB urged the Federal Aviation Adiministration to order private companies to initiate four safety steps including obstacle sensing systems and better weather reporting capacity. The FAA has acted on only one of the suggested remedies in the five years since.
During the 11 months from November, 2007 to October, 2008, the industry experienced nine fatal accidents, capped by a Chicago crash that killed three adults and a baby. The aircraft involved in that crash was not equipped with the up-to-date safety equipment recommended by the NTSB four years earlier. It is estimated that fewer than one-half of the aircraft used by the industry are properly equipped with state of the art weather and obstacle-warning electronics.
Approximately 800 helicopters operate in the medical transportation field, and generate annual revenues in excess of $2.5 billion dollars. The average flight costs Medicare about $4500.00 and private insurers approximately $10,000.00, according to the New York Times. Private companies have now taken over these operations from most hospitals and compete heavily in some communities.
One Les Doerr, an FAA spokesman quoted in the Times, excused his agency's failure to act by suggesting that "the industry could voluntarily bring about change more quickly than the government could by developing regulations." We saw how that worked in the banking industry, too, didn't we? If you want to assure that government won't work, appoint people to government who don't believe in government.