NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 30, 2006

The National Transportation Safety Board has called for new safety standards in the medical transport aviation industry after an 18-month study revealed what the agency termed a disturbingly high number of fatal accidents among transport aircraft.

Many emergency airlift services, known as medevac, for medical evacuation, traditionally have been managed by hospitals. As the medical industry has cut costs, however, private companies have expanded to compete for the business of transporting patients, resulting in the medevac industry doubling in size within the last decade. There are about 650 medevac helicopters in service now with more flights than ever.

  • The agency found that since 2002, there have been 64 medevac accidents that resulted in 62 deaths, compared with 15 accidents and 17 deaths over a similar period a decade earlier.
  • About 75 percent of the accidents reviewed by the board occurred while no patients were on board.

The researchers concluded that medical helicopters fly under lax regulations when nopatients are on board, and hospital employees and 911 dispatchers often lack the experience needed to gauge whether it is safe to fly.

NTSB suggested requiring operators of emergency medical flight services to develop programs that assess risks of nighttime and inclement weather flights and mandating thatpilots wear night-vision goggles and use crash avoidance systems.

One of the guidelines' "key elements" would ensure that pilots do not take patient condition into account when deciding whether to fly. The NTSB says this move would make pilots' decisions contingent on weather and flying conditions only.

Source: Sara Kehaulani Goo, "New Medevac Safety Rules SoughtRise in Fatal Helicopter Accidents Causes Concern at NTSB," Washington Post, January 26, 2006.

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