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FAA Issues EMS Rule, Includes Additional Helicopter Operations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finalized a rule requiring stronger safety measures for helicopter operators, including air ambulances. Changes include equipment, training and operational requirements, and all HAI members are strongly encouraged to review the rule.

FAA personnel will be available at "Meet The Regulators" at HAI HELI-EXPO 2014 at 9:00 am on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Anaheim Conventer Center to answer questions.

The rule is primarily directed toward air ambulance operations, but also addresses commercial helicopter and general aviation helicopter operations, implementing new operational procedures and additional equipment requirements. Additionally, the rule revises requirements for equipment, pilot testing, and alternative airports as well as increasing weather minimums for all general aviation helicopter operations under Part 91 in Class G airspace.

For helicopter air ambulances, the rule requires operations with medical personnel on board to be conducted under Part 135 operating rules and introduces new weather minimums and visibility requirements for Part 135 operations. It mandates flight planning, preflight risk analyses, safety briefings for medical personnel, and the establishment of operations control centers (OCC) for certain operators to help with risk management and flight monitoring. The rule also includes provisions to encourage instrument flight rules (IFR) operations. It requires helicopter air ambulances to be equipped with both helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems. In addition, helicopter air ambulance pilots will be required to hold instrument ratings.

For all helicopters operated under Part 135, these rules require that operators carry more survival equipment for operations over water. Alternate airports named in flight plans must have higher weather minimums than are currently required. These helicopters must be equipped with radio altimeters and pilots must be able to demonstrate that they can maneuver the aircraft during an inadvertent encounter with instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) to get out of those conditions safely. As mentioned above, the rule assigns new weather minimums to part 91 helicopter operations in Class G airspace.

The following represents a summary of affected entities:

Part 135 All Rotorcraft Operators:
Requires each rotorcraft to be equipped with a radio altimeter ( Section 135.160)
Adds Section 135.168 equipment requirements for rotorcraft operated over water. Helicopter operations conducted over water will be required to carry additional safety equipment to assist passengers and crew in the event an accident occurs over water.

Revised alternate airport weather minimums for rotorcraft in Section 135.221. This rule improves the likelihood of being able to land at the alternate airport if weather conditions in the area deteriorate while the helicopter is en route.

Revises Section 135.293 to require pilot testing of rotorcraft handling in flat-light, whiteout, and brownout conditions and demonstration of competency in recovery from an IIMC.

Part 135 Helicopter Air Ambulance:
Requires helicopter air ambulance flights with medical personnel on board to be conducted under Part 135 (Section 135.1, 135.601).

Requires certificate holders with 10 or more helicopter air ambulances to establish operations control centers (OCC) (Section 135.619) and requires drug and alcohol testing for operations control specialists (Section 120.105 and 120.215).

Requires helicopter air ambulances to be equipped with HTAWS (Section 135.605).

Requires helicopter air ambulances to be equipped with a flight data monitoring system (Section 135.607).

Requires each helicopter air ambulance operator to establish and document, in its operations manual, an FAA-approved preflight risk analysis (Section 135.617).

Requires pilots to identify and document the highest obstacle along the planned route (Section 135.615).

Requires safety briefings or training for helicopter air ambulance medical personnel (Section 135.621).

Establishes visual flight rules (VFR) weather minimums for helicopter air ambulance operations (Section 135.609).

Permits instrument flight rules (IFR) operations at airports without weather reporting (Section 135.611).

Establishes procedures for transitioning between IFR and VFR on approach to, and departure from, heliports or landing areas (Section 135.613).

Requires pilots in commend to hold an instrument rating (Section 135.603).

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