The FAA proposes to fine Air Methods $1.54 million for allegedly operating Airbus EC130 helicopters on dozens of aeromedical flights beyond power-off gliding distance from shore without required aircraft or personal flotation gear.
Air Methods has 30 days to respond to the alleged violations of Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), which the FAA detailed April 13. The Englewood, Colo. company said it is investigating the allegations and cooperating fully with the FAA.
“We take safety seriously, and the safe return of our crews and the patients we serve is and always will be our highest priority at Air Methods,” Air Methods President Mike Allen said. He noted that the company in 2013 became the first aeromedical provider and helicopter operator to achieve the highest level (Level 4) within the FAA’s voluntary safety management system program. “We continue to raise the bar to ensure the safety of those who fly with us.”
The FAA said the alleged violations involved flights in the Pensacola, Fla. area. Air Methods has contracts with two healthcare operators there, Baptist Health Care and Sacred Heart Hospital. Only the Baptist contract uses EC130s, now redesignated H130s. (The other program, Air Heart Air Ambulance, flies Eurocopter BO105s.)
In 2014, Air Methods acquired substantially all of Baptist’s aeromedical program, Baptist LifeFlight. In addition to Baptist Hospital, that program serves Pensacola’s Sacred Heart as well as Baptist South Hospital in Montgomery, Ala., University of South Alabama in Mobile, Ala. and Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, Miss. It has four bases: Pensacola, Semmes and Greenville in Alabama and Hattiesburg.
The FAA alleges Air Methods operated two helicopters on 70 passenger-carrying flights over water and beyond power-off gliding distance from shore when the aircraft lacked FAR-required helicopter flotation devices and flotation gear for each occupant. It says the company operated another helicopter on 13 such flights without required flotation gear for each occupant.
“Operators must follow every regulation and take every precaution to ensure the safety of all those on board,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in announcing the proposed fine. “Flying without required safety equipment is indefensible.”