Australian global aviation safety and risk management specialist Aerosafe Risk Management has identified 26 significant industry-wide risks facing the US helicopter air ambulance industry.

The report, paid for by Bell Helicopter and published by the Flight Safety Foundation in April, is in response to a recent increase in the number of accidents suffered by the US helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) industry. Between January 2002 and January 2005 there were 55 EMS-related accidents and in the last 12 months alone there have been nine fatal HEMS accidents that killed 35 people.

The spate of accidents has spawned a barrage of actions, from legislation to mandate safety improvements to a new US Federal Aviation Administration rulemaking that would see radar altimeters, terrain awareness and warning systems, cockpit voice and data recorders and special training for HEMS pilots starting in the 2011 timeframe.

Among the greatest risks to the industry, according to Aerosafe's HEMS Industry Risk Profile, is the lack of a national EMS structure or governance framework; inadequacy of the current medical reimbursement model to provide financial coverage for the operating costs of the service or the required upgrade in capability required; and complexity, non-alignment and lack of clarity around the roles and scope of federal, state and country agencies involved in the oversight of the industry.

In addition, and ranked as very high risk, there are differing licensing requirements and standards between states, different business models, immature safety management systems and there is no accredited agency to provide oversight. "The current regime was not purposefully designed and has evolved over the past 20 years to the current regime in the absence of a framework," says Aerosafe.

The report proposes several risk treatment strategies. These include establishing a task force of key industry and regulatory bodies to review national EMS definition, framework and effectiveness and implement an enhanced national EMS definition and framework. Also proposed are the establishment of a custodian group to oversee and monitor the risk profile of the industry and a joint task force to oversee the alignment of regulations. Working groups are proposed to develop an integrated oversight model, while it is suggested an action agenda to address key risk areas be developed and adopted.

Other strategies include identifying and addressing structural and operational safety issues; developing national performance-based requirements; establishing an industry-regulator working group to specify and assess current, emerging and future technology; getting the industry to commit to the implementation of safety management systems; and developing a national training strategy.

The report sets a timeline for industry action, including development of an industry response by 15 July, to be followed by a risk reduction planning conference in August and release of the HEMS Industry Risk Reduction Plan on 31 August.

Source: Flight International