The Federal Aviation Administration just announced another fine against Air Methods, a large operator of helicopter ambulances – this one for nearly $900,000 for a particularly egregious infraction; knowingly flying patients in an aircraft with a serious safety defect.
Between November 4 and the 11th in 2014, the FAA claims, Air Methods continued to use the helicopter after an FAA inspector told the company the pitot tubes were “severely corroded.”
The FAA called this behavior, “reckless and careless”, endangering lives. “Operators are expected to respond appropriately when FAA inspectors alert them to airworthiness concerns,” Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement to journalists.
Huerta made nearly similar statements in pointing out other infractions by the Colorado-based, for-profit air ambulance service. Wednesday’s announcement is the fourth time in five years that the FAA has called out Air Methods for operating recklessly.
Medical helicopters literally operate under the radar, but changing its ways doesn’t seem to be on Air Method’s radar screen. What are we to make of the fact that in the recent past Air Methods has been fined for
- operating two Eurocopter EC-130s over water without required flotation devices
- operating a Bell 407 in 2014 without making required inspections on tail-rotor components
- failing to do required inspections of the Night Vision Imaging System on two aircraft
A quick count shows that over the past decade, Air Methods has had seven fatal crashes. Despite episodes of scrutiny by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Office of the Inspector General department of aviation, things just don’t seem to be getting better in the helicopter air ambulance industry and fines apparently aren’t affecting the behavior of Air Methods.
The FAA has already assessed penalties of several million dollars at Air Methods, the net sales/revenues of which topped a billion in 2015. More than anything else, this may explain how the fines don’t seem to have much of an impact on the company.
Nope, the only folks feeling the pain are the families of patients, pilots and medical personnel who have died on this company’s aircraft. Folks like the husband of Terry Tacoronte, a 58 year old grandmother who was being transferred from a hospital in Bethany, Missouri to a hospital 62 miles away. She was killed in 2011 along with the pilot and paramedic when the air ambulance crashed one mile short of the destination after running out of fuel.
Fine the company, and that’s fine? Maybe not so much.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.