NTSB wants new rules for medical helicopters

September 1, 2009 10:49:22 AM PDT
The National Transportation Safety Board wants better training and more sophisticated equipment for medical helicopters, and recommends limiting Medicare payments for emergency flights to operators who meet new safety standards. The NTSB board approved recommendations Tuesday for the Federal Aviation Administration to require operators of helicopters flown for emergency medical services to, among other things, install automatic pilots, terrain awareness monitors and night-vision systems. The board also agreed to develop recommendations for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide Medicare payments only to emergency helicopter operators who pass safety audits.

The board's action comes in response to a record nine fatal emergency helicopter crashes in which 35 people died between December 2007 and October 2008.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Occasionally emergency medical helicopters sent into action to save lives end up crashing, a tragic consequence that has federal officials weighing new safety recommendations.

The National Transportation Safety Board is meeting Tuesday to vote on 19 proposals to make the transport of patients, medical crews and donated organs safer.

The board has spent a year investigating the safety of what is known as the air ambulance industry. This was prompted by a spate of nine helicopter crashes between December 2007 and October 2008 that claimed 35 lives.

The recommendations include better pilot training and the use of night vision imaging systems.

A more thorough collection and analysis of flight, weather and safety data also is recommended.

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