HAI, the Association of Air Medical Services, and the Air Medical Operators Association recently hosted a Helicopter Air Medical Safety Conference in Arlington, Virginia. The three associations invited executives, managers, pilots, and maintenance technicians from helicopter air ambulance operations (HAA) to meet and discuss their issues and challenges.
On Day 1, several panel discussions reviewed regulatory items stemming from the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, preemption threats to air medical operators, and the FAA’s legal perspective of these issues.
After lunch provided by the host associations, the conference resumed with a panel discussion on the impact of the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) into the National Airspace System. As HAA operations often fly at the same low altitudes where drones are commonly found, this discussion focused on containing the dangers posed by UAS to air medical transport providers.
Brendan Schulman, vice president for policy and legal affairs at DJI, the world’s leading civilian drone manufacturer, told attendees what his company is doing to protect the skies in the drone era. The company recently announced that it will install ADS-B receivers in all DJI drones weighing more than 0.55 lb, enabling them to be located, tracked, and in some cases, diverted.
The day’s presentations concluded with one on managing the high-risk environment of helicopter air ambulance operations. A networking reception followed.
Day 2 of the conference began with opening remarks from the host association presidents and breakfast. Next, the FAA started a conversation around air medical accident statistics, giving audience members the data necessary to understand where the accidents are happening and perhaps a vision of where to look for solutions.
Next up was a presentation on recent air medical accidents by Bruce Landsberg, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who also provided his perspective on safety and accident prevention gained from years of investigating aircraft accidents. HAI President and CEO Matt Zuccaro then spoke on corporate safety culture and how the business end of operations can influence decision-making at the user level, leading to unintended consequences and accidents.
After lunch and on the home stretch of Day 2, attendees heard about HAA legislative initiatives. Next, Chris Hill, HAI director of safety, introduced the HAI Aviation Reporting Program (HARP). This app provides one-stop reporting for all things hazardous to helicopter aviation, including bird and laser strikes and drone events. Visit rotor.org/harp to learn more.
The final presentation of the conference was by representatives of the Helicopter Occupant Protection Working Group, an FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee that recently concluded its work. Attendees learned about fuel cell development, drop testing, fuel breakaway fittings, energy-absorbing seats, and the engineering involved in making our equipment safer for us.
Each panel and presentation created spirited discussion, often spurred on by the expertise that existed in the audience. The ability to meet others engaged in HAA operations and to discuss issues collaboratively is a valuable tool in reaching our industry’s goal of zero accidents. HAI is already planning to make the Helicopter Air Medical Safety Conference an annual event.