Airbus is installing a crash-resistant fuel tank by Robertson Fuel Systems and StandardAero on AS350 helicopters
Inspired by the fatal crash of a helicopter air ambulance in 2015 in Colorado, two of the state's Democratic legislators, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colorado, and freshman Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., last week re-introduced the Safe Helicopters Now Act, H.R. 675, to give a tax credit to helicopter builders who retrofit their existing fleets of emergency helicopters with crash-resistant fuel systems (CRFS).
Neguse said in a statement that "emergency helicopters and the people who pilot them are on the front lines of some of the toughest times for Americans."
The legislation is before the House Ways and Means Committee. In the last Congress, Perlmutter and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., had also introduced their version of the legislation, H.R. 6832, to give a tax credit of 10 percent of the improved fuel system costs to helicopter builders who retrofitted emergency helicopters with the crash-resistant fuel systems.
While the FAA Re-Authorization Act, P.L. 115-254, requires all newly manufactured helicopters, including those type certified before 1994, to have crash-resistant fuel systems, some safety observers are concerned that the law does not require the retrofit of such systems on existing helicopters type certified before 1994.
Part 44737 of the law gives helicopter manufacturers 18 months to comply with the inclusion of the systems on all newly built helicopters and stipulates that the FAA administrator "will expedite the certification and validation of United States and foreign type designs and retrofit kits that improve fuel system crash-worthiness; and not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this section, and periodically thereafter, issue a bulletin to inform rotorcraft owners and operators of available modifications to improve fuel system crash-worthiness; and urge that such modifications be installed as soon as practicable."
Airbus and Sikorsky are two helicopter companies that have not wholly agreed with the FAA Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group that advised the FAA to require retrofits within five years. Airbus said that the FAA should "strongly recommend, rather than require," the installation of crash-resistant fuel bladders meeting the 50 foot drop test and 250 pound puncture resistance requirements, while Sikorsky said that the working group "has not demonstrated the basis of the recommendation to retrofit CRFS into Part 29 aircraft" and that the company "would rather the [working group] recommend, not require, CRFS be retrofitted in Part 29 Transport Category aircraft."
Perlmutter has said that the FAA Re-Authorization Act of 2018 "ushered in a new standard of safety for fuel systems on all newly manufactured rotorcraft within 18 months and requires the FAA to encourage the retrofitting of existing rotorcraft."
The provisions in the FAA Re-Authorization Act and the Safe Helicopters Now bill stemmed from the crash of a Flight for Life AS350 helicopter in July, 2015 in Frisco, Colorado, which killed the pilot, seriously injured one flight nurse, and severely disfigured Dave Repsher, another flight nurse. Last year, Airbus and Air Methods Corp. reached a $100 million settlement with Repsher's family.
Neguse said that Karen Mahany, the widow of the pilot, Patrick Mahany, helped write the Safe Helicopters Now legislation.
The National Transportation Security Board (NTSB) has recommended that the FAA mandate crash-resistant fuel systems for all civil rotorcraft.
“What is out there right now in helicopters is ancient in safety and technology," Repsher said in the statement released by Neguse. "There haven’t been any significant safety improvements since the 1960s.”