NTSB scrutinizes EMS safety issues

Operators, pilots and industry officials gathered in Washington DC to address the high rate of EMS helicopter accidents. On the first day University of Chicago Hospitals Dir Ira Blumen, HAI_Pres Matthew Zuccaro and Canadian Helicopters Assn Representative Sylvain Sequin addressed historical risks and associated factors, safety initiatives and Canadian EMS safety practices.

TSB held 4 days of public hearings on safety in EMS helicopter operations starting on Feb 3. In the past 12 months, NTSB has investigated 9 fatal accidents that claimed 35 lives, and EMS operators have come under increasing government scrutiny. It was this dramatic rise in accidents that prompted the board to address the situation by means of public hearings. Witnesses included members of the EMS community, helicopter OEMs, operators, pilots and FAA officials.

While medical evacuation flights are recognized as potentially dangerous, especially at night or in inclement weather, the question of how best to mitigate the risks has remained unanswered. At the heart of the discussions were ways of increasing EMS pilot situational awareness and the question of how operators can reduce risk cost-effectively-including an examination of mandatory 2-pilot EMS operations. Rockwell Collins and CMC are both developing mature TCAS and TAWS for helicopters, while CMC plans to offer a HUD for commercial helicopters.

PremiAir, the UK's largest executive helicopter operator, has begun offering shuttle service between Battersea Heliport, London, England and major airports in the region. The company is using a Sikorsky S76 (above) and a Eurocopter AS355 Ecureuil 2 on the service.

Costa Mesa CA and Newport Beach FL Police Depts are the first to use the FLIR Ultra 9HD imaging unit. Both departments are operators of the Euro_copter EC120. The Ultra 9HD features a GPS receiver capable of "geopointing"-providing the GPS coordinates of whatever target the camera is pointing at, allowing operators to direct law enforcement actions more precisely.

Sikorsky has completed ground tests of its X2 technology demonstrator's pusher propeller. This also completes the 1st of 4 phases of the aircraft's test regime and its stay at Sikorsky's ELM_(Elmira NY) facility. "The primary goal was to make sure the prop actuator and FBW interface were working properly," says X2 Program Chief Engineer Steve Weiner. In the remaining 3 phases of the test program, the X2 will begin forward flight and increase its speed ultimately to 250 kts. Sikorsky says it will incorporate X2 technology in a new family of helicopters it is developing.

AgustaWestland has signed an MoU with Tata Sons to open an AW119 final assembly facility in India. Currently AgustaWestland is in competition to supply the Indian armed forces with a platform for reconnaissance and surveillance.

Sikorsky flew the S76D for the first time on Feb 7, following a 3-year development program. The helicopter was taken through all phases of flight and achieved a forward speed of 40 kts. Power_ed by 2 P&WC PW210S turbo_shafts each developing 1050 shp takeoff power, the latest S76 derivative features a Thales avionics panel and autopilot. Sikorsky says it holds 100 order agreements for the S76D, which will enter production next year after completing its flight test program.