New Rules to Improve Helicopter Safety

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Due to a dramatic rise in helicopter crashes, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued new requirements for safety-equipment, pilot training and flying conditions.
     There were 62 crashes from 1991 through 2010, with 125 people killed. In 2008, the deadliest year ever, five air ambulance crashes killed 21 people. More than 100 people died in other commercial helicopter operations during that time as well.
     Most commonly, the crashes occurred when weather conditions suddenly changed and pilots lost visual contact with their surroundings. Flying at night was also a factor. Air ambulances operate under stressful conditions. They fly low, fast, in all types of weather and have to land in unfamiliar places on uneven terrain.
     The new rules require increased weather visibility standards for flight, and helicopters must be equipped with a radio altimeter. Helicopters flying over water must also have special safety equipment, such as floatation devices, in case of a crash into the water. Air ambulances are required to be equipped with terrain avoidance systems and flight data monitoring systems.
     Pilots also must have more training and be tested more often. Air ambulance pilots are required to hold instrument ratings. The new rules also mandate flight planning, preflight risk analyses, safety briefings for medical personnel, and the establishment of operations control centers.
     An FAA task force had been working on recommendations for changes to the rules since 2003. After many years of review, President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act on Feb. 14, 2012 directing the FAA to make rules to address the growing problem of helicopter crashes. They take effect April 22.