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Major HEMS Associations Commit to IHST Goals, Process

Major helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) associations have committed to “create the safest system possible for patients and the public” by adopting the data-driven safety recommendations of the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST). They called on all HEMS operators to join their efforts.

“The leading helicopter operators in our industry have made significant investments in safety programs,” which are “a starting point in a long-term commitment to safer medical aviation,” the groups’ leaders said in a joint letter signed March 6 during Helicopter Association International’s HELI-EXPO 2011 in Orlando, FL.

While noting that countless lives have been saved since the inception 60 years ago of helicopter medevac and search and rescue services, the HEMS leaders said, “it is clear that we must now all act together as an industry to improve safety performance to continue to earn patient and public trust.”

The industry and government co-chairs of IHST, HAI President Matt Zuccaro and FAA Rotorcraft Directorate Manager Kim Smith, welcomed the added international support for pursuing an 80 percent reduction in the worldwide helicopter accident rate from a 2005 baseline by 2016.

The HEMS leaders said they “commit to the IHST process of data-driven best practice and call upon all HEMS operators to join our efforts.”

The leaders were:

• Erwin Stolpe, M.D., a member of the Board of Directors of the European HEMS and Air Ambulance Committee (EHAC) and medical director of Germany’s ADAC Air Rescue;

• Daniel Hankins, M.D., president of the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) and an emergency medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.;

• Howard Ragsdale, president of the Air Medical Operators Association (AMOA) and director of PHI Air Medical, headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz.;

• Thomas Judge, EMTP, chairman of the Association of Critical Care Transport (ACCT) and executive director of LifeFlight of Maine, based in Bangor, Maine;

• Rex Alexander, president of the National EMS Pilots Association (NEMSPA) in the U.S.

• Kevin Hutton, M.D., chairman of Medevac Foundation International (MFI) and chief executive officer, founder, and chair of Golden Hour Data Systems, based in San Diego.

While he was unable to join his colleagues in Orlando, the president of the Aeromedical Society of Australasia (ASA), Andrew Berry, M.D. also signed the letter. He also is state director of the Newborn and paediatric Emergency Transport Service (NETS) of New South Wales, Australia.

The International Helicopter Safety Team was established in late 2005 through the consensus of the international helicopter community and regulators to reduce the worldwide helicopter accident rate 80 percent by 2016. The team is pursuing that goal by developing means of eliminating or mitigating factors that contribute to accidents based on the thorough and disciplined analysis of those accidents. Its data-driven process builds on the success of past efforts in the helicopter industry and other aviation segments.

The IHST has produced tool kits to help operators implement recommendations for reducing accidents, such as those related to training, safety management systems and flight data monitoring. These and other aids are available free of charge at www.ihst.org.

The HEMS groups are the latest industry leaders to commit to the IHST’s data-driven process and the recommendations derived from it. In October 2010, 10 offshore helicopter support operators signed a similar commitment (Bond Helicopters, Bristow Group, British International Helicopters, CHC, Cougar Helicopters, Dancopter, Era Helicopters, Heli-Union, Inaer and PHI). In February 2010, the chief executives of four major helicopter manufacturers—AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopter, Eurocopter and Sikorsky Aircraft—signed a commitment to support the IHST initiative.