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MY 2 CENTS’ WORTH


By Randy Mains SULLY, WELCOME TO OUR WORLD


These sobering words were found in a 15 September 2016 article in


The New York Times titled “‘Miracle on the Hudson’ Safety Advice Not Carried Out”:


“In the seven years since an airline pilot saved 155 lives by ditching his crippled airliner in the Hudson River, there’s been enough time to write a book and make a movie, but apparently not enough to carry out most of the safety recommendations stemming from the accident. Of the 35 recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board in response to the incident involving US Airways Flight 1549, only six have been heeded.”


The airline pilot referred to is, of course, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who recently sounded a similar refrain on his Facebook page:


“I’m very disappointed so many of the


important safety recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after Flight 1549 have not yet been mandated by the FAA. Unless the FAA mandates safety improvements, airlines historically will not adopt them. We owe it to everyone who flies to act on what is learned from accidents, often at great cost in lives lost, instead of just filing it away to gather dust while we await the next accident.”


You can hear the frustration in his post lamenting the treatment the FAA has given the NTSB safety recommendations. Whereas Sully managed to save the lives of 155 people, our industry has documented


8 Nov/Dec 2016


well over 1,000 people involved in HEMS accidents, with nearly 400 HEMS crew members losing their lives. That staggering total would fill over six aircraft similar to the one the captain safely landed in the Hudson.


Sully, welcome to our HEMS world.


The NTSB has carefully studied the problems in our HEMS industry and recommended to the FAA some excellent safety fixes, but similar to Sully’s case, the FAA has refused to act. The reason? According to a 27 August 2012 post at the Aviation Law Monitor website, the answer is:


“When the FAA was created; it was charged with both regulating aviation and promoting it. The FAA’s inherent conflict of interest explains why the FAA so often ignores FAA regulations.”


That’s why Sully’s statement doesn’t surprise me. He’s now experienced the same inaction by the FAA that we in the HEMS industry have been subject to for years.


After 2008 became the worst year on record in the HEMS industry, the NTSB formed a Board of Inquiry that conducted a public hearing over four days in February 2009. Over 1,000 pages of sworn testimony from over 40 industry experts were generated to determine what should be done to stop the bloodshed. The NTSB then proposed their safety recommendations to the FAA. Several glaring omissions of those life- saving recommendations were evident when the new FAA rules were announced five years—and 23 more deaths—later.


If you read the earlier safety recommendation document written in 2009 by the then head


of the FAA, Randy Babbitt (and signed off on in September of that year by the then head of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman), Babbitt wrote the following under the heading “Dual Pilot/Autopilot Use”:


“A review of the NTSB Aviation Accident Database revealed that during the 8-year period from 2000 to 2008, 123 HEMS accidents occurred, killing 104 people and seriously injuring 42 more. All but nine of these accidents involved operations with only one pilot. Pilot actions or omissions, in some capacity, were attributed as the probable cause in 60 of the 123 accidents. Most of these 60 accidents might have been prevented had a second pilot and/or an autopilot been present.”


The FAA chose to ignore the NTSB recommendations because it would have put too great a financial burden on the smaller operators, giving further ammunition to the argument that our system in America needs a change if we ever expect to see a reduction in HEMS accidents.


Robert Sumwalt, chairman of that 2009 Board of Inquiry, voiced his personal frustration with the FAA in a January 2016 post on the NTSB Safety Compass blog:


“As evidenced by continued HEMS crashes, more needs to be done. NTSB crash investigations have demonstrated the safety benefits of scenario-based simulator or simulator training, use of NVIS, and a second pilot or an autopilot. After all, an industry that is designed to save lives should not be claiming lives.”


In the FAA’s defense, the agency is seriously shackled by its own mandate. Two friends of mine quit the FAA in Washington, voicing


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