The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) encourages air medical transport operators to make safety a priority, beyond what is currently required by Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) regulations. It also has recommendations for emergency responders to follow when requesting air medical transport. These recommendations will further ensure safe operations and support an overall safety culture.
The FAA doesn't require on-demand operators like emergency air medical transporters to adopt the same safety program criteria as scheduled flight operators, such as those for commercial airlines. For this reason, air medical flight operators are not yet required to have a safety management system (SMS) in place. Some air medical transport operators have implemented SMSs voluntarily.
The NTSB has long advocated for the adoption of SMSs in all flight operations. The implementation of SMSs was on the NTSB's list of Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for 2019-2020. SMSs force operators to evaluate their risks, as well as their pilots' skills and flight behavior.
A recent article from ICHIEFS, the official magazine of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, recommends three key things emergency responders can do prior to requesting air medical transport to help improve overall safety:
Research companies in your area prior to requesting flights.
The Commission of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS) offers accreditation for medical transport organizations. Most helicopter air ambulance programs in the United States are CAMTS-accredited programs.
Understand how operators in your area determine which flights to accept.
Consider shadowing opportunities with flight operators to learn more about their decision-making process.
Be aware of weather conditions when requesting air medical transport.
If other helicopter operators in the area are turning down flights due to weather concerns, you may need to reevaluate the necessity of air transport.
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: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times