The whole reason the NTSB exists is to learn from accidents and make safety recommendations so that similar accidents won’t happen again. But the NTSB has no power to make anyone, including the FAA, follow its recommendations. And so, frequently, the FAA just ignores them.
Of course, ignoring NTSB recommendations can lead to loss of life. Some feel that the crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Buffalo might have been avoided, and 50 lives saved, had the FAA acted on the NTSB’s safety recommendations concerning turboprop planes and airframe ice. But the FAA never did, despite that some of those recommendations are now more than 10 years old. Even by goverment standards, ten years is a long time to sit on something.
But back to air ambulances: The NTSB studied 55 air ambulance crashes occurring between 2002 and 2004 in which 54 people were killed. As a result of what it learned, the NTSB recommended (pdf) that air ambulance companies be required to, among other things:
- equip their helicopters with terrain warning systems;
- ensure that their pilots have good weather information before taking off; and
- ensure that their pilots get adequate rest.
All straightforward stuff that is hard to argue with.
That was back in 2006. Since then, another 9 air ambulances have crashed, killing 35. Still, the FAA hasn’t acted on the recommendations. Though there has been some response from the FAA, the NTSB calls the response "unacceptable."
One might wonder: if the FAA is free to ignore the NTSB, and has a record of doing just that, then what’s the point of even having an NTSB?