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AAMS Pleased with Congress’ New 4-Year FAA Authorization

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The Association of Air Medical Services, an international, not-for-profit association that provides service and leadership for both air and surface medical transport providers, has authored a press release stating that they are “extremely pleased” about the agreement Congress recently arrived at regarding FAA funding. The new agreement will provide four years of authorized funding for the FAA, running up to the end of fiscal year 2015.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been running solely on short-term, temporary extensions of government funding since 2007, making this agreement the first long-term authorization for the agency in five years. The Association of Air Medical Services believes that this long-term authorization of funds will allow the agency the greater level of stability they require for making better investment and planning decisions in the long-term.

For one thing, AAMS believes the authorization will allow the FAA to implement the NextGen Air Traffic Control System upgrades (you may remember that we discussed these NextGen system upgrades and their potential in Air Ambulance Weekly quite a while back). Indeed, part of the legislation includes a faster timetable for completing NextGen air-traffic control upgrades. Aircraft flying in congested airways will be required to make use of NextGen technology by 2020. The FAA will also be charged with developing more efficient routes into the nation’s busiest airports.

The Association of Air Medical Services also hopes that, with the long-term authorization, the FAA will now be inclined and able to invest some serious funds into infrastructure improvements in the nation’s air travel system — improvements which are “badly needed” according to the AAMS.

Positively, the language of the new Congressional legislation specifically makes mention of the safety concerns of the air ambulance industry. The Association of Air Medical Services and Congress have been working together on the language of the legislation for years, and many of AAMS’ key points are reflected thusly.

Air Ambulance Community Keypoints

Some of the concerns of the air medical community addressed by the new FAA authorization include:

  • Part 135 criteria abidance when air medical crew are on board an aircraft
  • Flight request and dispatch procedures, including performance-based flight dispatch procedures.
  • Pilot training standards
  • Operational control centers
  • Safety equipment
  • Technology (helicopter terrain awareness/warning systems, radar altimeters, flight data recorders/cockpit voice recorders, and so on)
  • Flight data collection

The pilot training standards (bullet 3 above) will include establishment of training standards in preventing controlled flight into terrain, as well as recovery from inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions. The legislation will also affect mandatory pilot training requirements, training subject areas (especially communications and technology use), crew resource management, flight risk evaluation (see below), operational control of the pilot-in-command, use of flight simulation training devices and line-oriented flight training.

Part 135 certificate holders who provide helicopter air ambulance services will be required to establish a flight risk evaluation program and a required-use checklist for pilots to use in determining whether to accept a flight request.

Section 317 of the new bill will require the current FAA Administrator to conduct a review of off-airport, low-altitude aircraft weather observation technologies and submit a report to Congress within a year. AAMS has been advocating for improvements in the “insufficient state of off-airport weather reporting” for several years. Section 317 is a firm step in the direction of identifying and ultimately correcting the shortcomings of the current off-airport weather reporting system.

Section 318 will require the FAA Administrator to examine and report on the feasibility of requiring helicopter air ambulance pilots to wear night vision goggles during night operations. The administrative report will also focus on the potential risks of such a requirement.

“This legislation is critical to all United States Aviation, and we are proud that much of the language specific to air medical operations originated from AAMS,” said Timothy Pickering, JD, CMTE, and current AAMS president. “We have worked tirelessly since 2006 to ensure that this language get incorporated into the final package to address significant issues that face our industry.”

If you’re feeling bold, you can view the entire text of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 Conference Report here. For those so inclined, it contains many pages of text of interest to the air ambulance community beyond the scope of this blog post.

The Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) is an voluntary non-profit international trade association serving the entire air and ground medical transport community. AAMS strives to enhance the medical transport industry by promoting the highest level of industry safety; promoting quality patient care; inspiring commitment to the industry’s work, causes, and viability; and providing superior service to its members. For additional information, visit AAMS.org.

Do you think the air ambulance community will benefit from the language of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act? Are there other air medical concerns you would like Congress and the FAA to address? Let us know your thoughts in the comments area below.

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