Flight Safety Foundation has released a study identifying the most significant risks involved in the helicopter air ambulance industry. The safety study was undertaken in response to the industry’s increasingly poor safety record.

According to the 64 page report (pdf), one of the biggest problems is that it’s not clear who is in charge of overseeing the industry.  State agencies, county agencies, and federal agencies all have a hand in regulating air ambulance operations but there is little coordination between them. Because no one agency is clearly in charge, hazards cannot be appropriately identified or managed, and definitive industry standards cannot be established.  

The report went on to identify 25 other significant risk factors.  Among the problems discussed:

  • Good decisions aren’t being made about whether a patient actually needs air transport.  Unnecessary flights lead to increased crew pressure and fatigue.
  • The industry lacks a real “safety culture.”  That can give rise to environments that reward inappropriate risk-taking behavior.
  • There is not enough money available to upgrade the EMS helicopters with current technology.

The report was underwritten by Bell Helicopter.  Though interesting reading, there’s little in the report that those familiar with the air ambulance industry would find surprising.