Multiple Awards won by Mario Diaz’s Series on FAA Failures

U.S. News reporters who ask the hard questions and do the investigating to expose FAA failures are rare. One of the best today is Mario Diaz, at PIX11 News, serving the New York market area. He won multiple award for ‘Below the Radar’, a five-part series that aired in mid-2014. This website posted twice about the series, first in mid-May (after the first four episodes), and again in mid-August (after the fifth episode).

Mario’s awards include:

A compilation of the full series of five episodes has been posted at YouTube. It runs nearly 30-minutes, and offers much to think about:

(click on image to see the full video of the investigative report)

(click on image to view the investigative report at YouTube)

NTSB’s Preliminary Report on the Monck’s Corner Midair Fails to Present Critical Airspeed Data

It took NTSB ten days to release a report on a midair collision that killed two men, when their Cessna was broadsided by a USAF F16 ‘training flight’ north of Charleston, SC [KCHS]. A PDF copy of the report text has been created, and includes footnotes pointing at areas needing further detail and investigation.

As noted earlier on this website, both FAA and NTSB need to become more immediately transparent on serious incidents, especially low-altitude fatal midair collisions. At a minimum, we should be able to see radar presentations (showing positions at key times, as well as datablocks that reveal altitudes and groundspeeds at those times), just as we should be able to listen to a copy of the audio between the F16 pilot and the KCHS approach controller.

What new information was produced? Here are a few key points:

  1. Very significantly, the impact occurred at just 1,500 feet altitude, an incredibly low altitude for an F16 to be passing at high speed near a small general aviation airport (Berkeley County, SW of Moncks Corner, [KMKS]).

    20150720scp.. VFRmap re Moncks Corner midair (showing Shaw AFB E to KMYR S to KCHS)

    VFR sectional showing: F16 departure from KSSC (orange triangle), F16 practice approaches at KMYR (orange square), final destination for F16 at KCHS (orange circle), and approx. route of Cessna from KMKS toward KCRE (red line).

  2. The report notes a 10:20 departure by the F16, a flight to KMYR to conduct two instrument approaches, then a flight to KCHS for another practice approach. Thus, it took just 40-minutes for this F16 to fly 79 direct nautical miles to KMKS, fly two approaches, then fly 63 direct nautical miles to the collision near KMKS. The time used up to fly two practice approaches at KMYR is substantial, thus suggests: this F16 was likely screaming through the sky, and at only 1,500 feet altitude (though interestingly, at the initial press conference on July 7th, the USAF commander said they believe the collision was at 2,500 to 3,000 feet altitude).
  3. Although NTSB provided many valuable details, they made absolutely no mention of a hugely important factor: the F16’s airspeed leading up to the collision. Historically (and this goes WAY back to the almost weekly fatal midairs that happened in the 1960’s, when jets were first introduced commercially), airspeed differentials are a major contributing factor to midair collisions. Certainly a Cessna at just 1,500 feet altitude would have very little opportunity to avoid a fast-moving jet pointed straight at the Cessna. This pattern, with NTSB failing to mention a very pertinent detail in their Preliminary Report, is a repeat of what happened a year ago when a student from Germany was killed in a crash near St. Cloud, MN, for which there was strong evidence an arriving Allegiant flight was too low and too close, creating a wake turbulence upset.
  4. The controller’s handling suggests a systemic ATC aversion against ‘controlling’ military training flights. ATC should never have allowed the F16 pilot to scream along at just 1,500-feet, particularly since the collision was at roughly 18-miles northeast of the runway in Charleston. Typically, a normal stabilized approach descends roughly 300-feet per mile, so a ‘controlled’ civilian flight would expect to be descending through 5,000+ at 18-miles out. Had the F16 flight been properly controlled, ATC would have held the flight higher, to at least 3,000 or 4,000 feet, and with a moderate (even minimal?) airspeed consistent with safe operation of the F16 while mixing safely with low-altitude civilian flights. In the image below, note the TACAN approach is normally flown via a 24-mile arc (much further out) and has a crossing at LADRE at or above 3,000 feet. It appears ATC dove the F16 early to enable the pilot to get under the scattered layer, to conduct a quicker ‘visual approach’ to land KCHS Runway 15.

    Red circle marks the approximate midair location.

    Red circle marks the approximate midair location.

  5. The simple fact is, if this controller had asserted earlier and aggressive control of the F16 flight, or if the controller had NOT told the F16 pilot to turn south (which turn was delayed by the F16 pilot), there would have been no midair collision. I.e., timing and timidity conspired to translate ATC instructions into two fatalities and two destroyed aircraft.

As a former air traffic controller (forced into early retirement due to whistleblowing), I find this incident and the post-incident handling very troubling. Two men lost their lives unnecessarily, but the F16 pilot and the FAA controller were also victim. They have to live with what they saw unfold, and they will forever wonder, what could they have done differently to have prevented this accident?

An FAA that routinely looks the other way while F16 pilots scream at low altitudes is only enabling risky flying that will eventually produce tragic consequences. Frankly, it would not be at all surprising to see this controller retire on a stress-related disability, primarily because FAA is so eager to accommodate aviators, they too often fail to assert real and needed safety controls.


UPDATED 7/20/2015

FAA’s NextGen: Just like the Little Man in ‘Wizard of Oz’

20150712cpy.. OZ's little man behind curtain, FAA SpinMeisterFAA’s attitude about citizen concerns is incredibly well illustrated by a scene from the film classic, Wizard of Oz. It is a scene that illustrates how power can be just an illusion, carefully spun and projected by an agency PR machine.

Little Man (with a booming voice, amplified by whiz-bang technologies): “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said come back tomorrow!”

Dorothy:  “If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.”

Little Man: “Do you presume to criticize the great Oz? You ungrateful creatures. Think yourselves lucky, that I’m giving you audience tomorrow instead of twenty years from now.”

Little Man then turns to see that the dog has pulled open the curtain, showing him manipulating the controls that project the booming voice of Oz. Little Man returns to his microphone, utters a startled “Oh!!”, then broadcasts: “The Great Oz has spoken!”

Little Man then turns again and quickly pulls the curtain shut, then broadcasts: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The Great Oz has spoken!”

Finally, when Dorothy pulls open the curtain and addresses Little Man, the fact is revealed: he is just an illusion of power, bolstered by the application of whiz-bang technology.

L. Frank Baum’s book was published in 1899, and the hugely popular movie came out in 1939.

Generations later, here we are in Summer 2015. NextGen is the newest ‘whiz-bang’ technology, sold to us by an increasingly Ozian FAA. The agency spends billions collected from passengers each year, to manipulate public perception that FAA serves aviation safety (…maybe like a tick aids canine health?), and that money needs to be spent on their over-promoted ‘whiz-bang NextGen’ technologies. This same FAA also ignores (and conceals) concerns about problems created by NextGen … not just noise issues (Phoenix, Santa Cruz, Charlotte, Boston, Chicago, Queens, etc.), but even safety issues, such as apparently contributed to the recent midair collision in South Carolina.

Clearly, we need to start paying very close attention to the FAA man behind the curtain. And we need Congress to step up their game, and force FAA to clean up its act.

FAA, NTSB Need to Accelerate Transparency about Midair Collisions

Two men were killed three days ago, when their Cessna was broadsided by a low-flying Air Force F16. This was a tragic accident that should never have happened, and would not have happened if any of the following practices had been followed by FAA:

  1. ensure the instrument approach procedures designed and approved by FAA do not create high-risk conflicts with nearby airport operations (in this case, the GA field at Moncks Corner);
  2. regulate military jet instrument practice in civilian airspace to include much slower maximum airspeeds (i.e., if  ATC cannot ensure that the route is clear of all other aircraft, then ATC must restrict the military jet to much slower speeds, as they would a civilian jet).

The Cessna occupants died, so it is easy to try and pin the blame on them for having just taken off and being in the wrong spot when the collision occurred. But, based on statements made to reporters in the immediate aftermath, it is clear that FAA’s controllers were working the jet, and that it was at a very low altitude either setting up for or actually on a published instrument procedure. It is also clear that high-speed low-flying military jets were a huge concern in South Carolina, even a week prior to the midair. For example, a news article on June 29 generated the following selected reader comments:20150707scp.. Comments re low-flying SC military jets, from recent WYFF article, 'Fighter jets heard, spotted over Upstate'

There appears to be a developing trend toward more aggressive military training flying, with more impact upon residents below. This incident reveals the worst-case consequences of this trend. The ATC clearance issued by the radar approach controller to the F16 pilot is a matter of documented fact. It is recorded digitally, and the audio data is saved, by FAA. Likewise, the radar data used by the controller working the F16 just prior to the midair collision is also digitally saved. This data will show conclusively, where the actual collision occurred (the lat/long as well as the altitude), the flight directions of the two aircraft at time of impact, and what opportunities ATC had to ‘save’ the accident from happening.

These digital files are immediately retrievable by FAA, thus have already been shared with NTSB. When Boeing 787’s had battery fires a few years ago, NTSB did a fantastic job showing the problem (with pictures of a burnt battery, no less) in a timely news interview. Likewise, when the Asiana flight crashed while landing at San Francisco, NTSB again was wonderfully transparent. We need this transparency, not only to help answer the reasonable questions and concerns of many citizens, but also to accelerate the ‘lessons learned’ from aviation tragedies, to help active pilots avoid tragic repeats. It has been three days, and FAA needs to post these files online, for the world to see the scenario that led to this tragic midair collision.

The Need for Safely Designed Approaches

Many people do not realize that the flight of the arriving F16, reportedly doing instrument practice into Charleston AFB [KCHS], is not at all random. That is to say, the flight was communicating with FAA ATC, was flying in accordance with an ATC clearance, and was either on or joining a published approach procedure. These published procedures are supposed to be designed so as to minimize safety hazards. Dozens of different offices have to sign off before a new procedure is finally published, so it should never happen that a procedure is published that routinely puts aircraft at risk of collision. That said, take a look at this published approach, the RNAV (RNP) Z Runway 15 to KCHS:

KHS_IAP_RNAV (RNP) Z RWY 15

(click on image to view larger PDF copy)

Note the fix KREIS (upper red box), with a hard altitude of 3,000 feet. Note also the first speed restriction is at JCEEE fix, 4.4 miles after KREIS fix (lower red box). 20150707scp.. Midair VFRmap, showing potential routes & KREIS fixThe lat/long for KREIS places it as indicated in red on the VFRmap portion. A left-turnout departure by a Cessna from KMCS to Myrtle Beach would approximately follow the green curve. The red line leading south to KREIS fix would approximately depict an arrival from Shaw setting up to fly this published procedure (i.e., a radar vector or a ‘Direct KREIS’ clearance). It is common practice for pilots to level off at the next crossing altitude (in this case 3,000 feet) at least a few miles before arriving at the fix. So, IF the arriving F16 was in fact being set up for this published approach, the pilot would have likely been screaming along, even in excess of 300-knots, and at a very low altitude of just 3,000 feet. Also, look closely at this published approach and it quickly becomes clear: with the annotations about ‘Radius to Fix required’ and very advanced (low) RNP requirements, this is clearly an approach NOT for regular GA flights, but most likely for military use.

We do not know if the F16 was flying this approach or another. FAA can easily answer this question, as they need to do with no further delay. As a matter of practice, to best serve the entire public (not just the narrow interests of aviation), FAA needs to routinely and immediately disclose audio recordings, transcripts, and radar presentations that depict the facts, following significant aviation incidents such as midair collisions. Clearly, a timely internet posting at the FAA website would be both effective and efficient.

FAA Opacity on Safety Data: the ATSAP Black-Hole

It is also highly likely that the FAA controller immediately filed an ATSAP report. This program grants immunity to controllers if/when they have an incident, so long as they voluntarily report what happened. The controllers are not required to report all details, and being human, they tend to report a story that places them in a positive light. But, even with that, they do report important details, that need to be disclosed if the public is to understand the incident. Regrettably, FAA has gone to considerable effort to permanently conceal all ATSAP report content; i.e., the details reported are held in such strict confidence that FAA even tries to hide them from Judges. Despite the fact FAA could easily (and routinely) sanitize the report contents with minimal redactions (similar to the way NASA ASRS reports are slightly altered) and then immediately disclose the amended report, FAA refuses to do so. Thus, when people want to learn from tragic accidents that ATC failed to save, there are no facts to be studied. Instead, we have to wait until months and years later, when a fully sanitized and carefully coordinated story is released by FAA and NTSB.

Midair Collision at Moncks Corner, SC, on July 7, 2015

CBS46 News

News reports indicate that an Air Force F16 flying a short flight from Shaw AFB in Sumter, SC [KSSC] to the Air Force Base in Charleston, SC [KCHS] broadsided a Cessna C150 over Moncks Corner, SC. The Cessna is believed to have just departed the Berkeley County Airport [KMKS], southwest of Moncks Corner, and was reportedly heading east for Myrtle Beach [KMYR]. Note that the straight-line distance from Shaw AFB to KMKS is 52nm, and from Charleston AFB to KMKS is 17nm. In a TV news interview, the Shaw AFB commander indicated the collision occurred when the F16 was at 2,000- to 3,000-ft altitude.

Orange line shows approx. route for Cessna, to Myrtle Beach. Green line shows extended centerline to KCHS Runway 15 (the F16 final course). Collision at center of red rectangle (approx.).

Shaw AFB is in upper left corner, Charleston AFB is near bottom left corner. Orange line shows approx. route for Cessna, to Myrtle Beach. Green line shows extended centerline to KCHS Runway 15 (the F16 final course). Collision at center of red rectangle (approx.). (click on image to view sectional at VFRmap.com)

Focal areas of the investigation will include:

  1. What was the precise lat/long, altitude, and time for the actual midair collision? This should be easily produced from FAA radar records.
  2. What is recorded by FAA/ATC on the radio communications? (this should show precisely what the F16 pilot requested, what ATC issued, whether any transmissions were made to help the F16 pilot not collide with the Cessna, etc.)
  3. For the F16, what time did they depart Shaw AFB, and was this just a quick hop to Charleston AFB, or was it more involved, including setting up with ATC for an instrument approach?
  4. What was the route of flight, altitude at top of climb, and flight condition (level, descending, on a radar vector or DME arc, etc. at the moment of impact) for the F16?
  5. Exactly what was the so-called ‘instrument training’ reportedly being done by the F16 pilot, during the minutes leading up to the collision? (in particular, experienced pilots will note it appears hazardous and not consistent with published instrument approaches, for a military jet to be so low, so far from KCHS, and in the vicinity of Lewisfield Plantation)
  6. For the Cessna, the airport and runway of departure, route of flight to the point of impact (left downwind departure off Runway 3 at KMKS?), flight condition (particularly, had the flight levelled or was it still climbing, at the point of impact?), and first and last times the radar target was displayed for ATC.
  7. What guidelines are local GA pilots advised to follow, as set up by FAA/ATC, to minimize the risk of conflict with Air Force training to KCHS Runway 15?

See also:

ANALYSIS: Another Frontal Passage Tragedy, this time in Plainview, TX

Early news reports indicate that the tragic death of three family members in a small airplane crash in Plainview, TX was likely caused by wind turbulence related to a frontal passage. Plainview is 35-miles north-northeast of Lubbock, at the bottom of the Texas Panhandle. Earlier this year, another frontal passage caused three Texas air crashes in the same day; miraculously, there were survivors in one of those three accidents.

Adding to the tragedy is the fact that all four accidents would not have happened if the pilots had elected to wait for the front to pass. An advancing cold front is hard to not notice, when a pilot checks the weather outlook before flying. Just like controllers, pilots have to avoid complacency. Pilots have to be vigilant about weather risks, and always incline toward staying on the ground if there is ANY doubt as to the level of weather risk.

Not just pilots, but passengers too, need to be aware of the potentially insurmountable hazards associated with weather, especially with the emerging evidence of weather intensification related to record atmospheric CO2 levels. Intensified weather can even destroy larger aircraft, as happened with Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501, an Airbus A320, which crashed after encountering extreme weather over the Java Sea, killing 162 last December 28th.

The NEXRAD Sequence

The weather risks associated with the Plainview crash are well illustrated by the progression of weather radar maps. A loop of hourly images for the entire day of 5/29/2015 is viewable at WeatherUnderground.

These radar maps are a NEXRAD (Next-Generation Radar) product. NEXRAD is a network of 160 high-resolution Doppler weather radars installed in the 1990’s. They provide enhanced capability for tracking precipitation and severe weather.

Here is an image from nearly three hours before the Plainview accident. It shows a large weather buildup west of Amarillo, growing and progressing southeastward. The accident airport is depicted by a pink circle, north of Lubbock:20150529at1900CDT.. NEXRAD KPVW marked up

And here is the sequence of hourly weather images, at 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm local time. Notice how the front builds and quickly moves NW to SE, and pay attention to the airport location (see above, just below the Interstate-27 symbol, near map center):
20150529at2000CDT.. NEXRAD KPVW

NEXRAD image at 8:00PM local time.

20150529at2100CDT.. NEXRAD KPVW

NEXRAD image at 9:00PM local time.

NEXRAD image at 10:00PM local time.

NEXRAD image at 10:00PM local time. Notice the green line to the southeast and ahead of the fast-moving front (marking the front edge of the mixing zone?).

Here is the sequence of weather observations (METAR), as recorded by the on-airport AWOS-3 system. It reads like a classic frontal onset: clear skies and light winds from the east. A pleasant evening. The winds then become calm, just before a roiling sky suddenly clouds up, temperatures plunge, and the altimeter and winds spike. This flight took off in the narrow window of calm, just ahead of the storm.20150529.. KPVW METARThe sequence suggests a very high probability that the pilot may have encountered wind shear and even rolling turbulence shortly after becoming airborne. In their study of weather, pilots are trained to expect turbulence aloft, that there is an intense zone of mixing in the steep band of air just ahead of an arriving mass of colder air.

FAA and NTSB need to emphasize to all pilots, that weather hazards need to be deeply respected, and that complacency has no place in the cockpit. Going forward, a less aviation-promotional and more safety-assertive stance by regulators can prevent incidents like this from repeating every few months.

ANALYSIS: American Eagle ends up ‘Stuck in the Mud’ in Columbia, MO

(source: tweet by Courtny Jodon   @CourtnyKRCG13)

(source: tweet by Courtny Jodon @CourtnyKRCG13)

20150404.. KCOU mishap, left main gear in soft grassThe images indicate a simple pilot error, not unlike what can happen to us with our cars, if we misjudge our turn and sideswipe a curb or another vehicle while parking.

METAR shows winds were from the SSW at 10mph, so ATC would have issued a taxi clearance for a Runway 20 departure.

20150404scp.. KCOU mishap, RWY20 area SATview marked-up

Orange diamond shows mishap location, blocking both runways. Green curved line shows turn; green arrow was intended takeoff roll.

To get there, the pilot evidently used a short segment of Runway 13, then started a left turn to line up for the full length of Runway 20. This is good practice, as it maximizes runway length, improving the safety margin while also minimizing takeoff noise impact on nearby communities. Unfortunately for this flight crew, they misjudged the turning radius of their passenger jet; their attempt to get an extra hundred feet of takeoff distance ended up with a left main gear stuck in muddy grass. The runway is 150-feet wide, so they had plenty of room to do the turn correctly. They just turned too soon.

(click on image to view the airport webpage)

(screencap of the webpage notice by the airport authority. Click on image to view the airport webpage)

What makes this story more interesting is how the airport authority and the media whitewashed the mistake. The airport authority phrased the incident as ‘dropping a wheel’. The local media, which of course got their information from the airport authority, ran a headline that read ‘Plane slides off tarmac at Columbia Regional’. Um, nothing was dropped and nothing slid; this was a simple matter of cutting a left turn too soon, failing to account for the fact your main gear is half a plane-length behind you. As noted earlier, we do the same thing driving a car, even more likely if we are driving something long like a bus, or pulling a trailer.

The ‘Larger Story’ about KCOU

Sometimes a news story has more value for revealing a larger issue than for the minor news event itself. The news story can inadvertently shine a light into an area not thought about by the average person. This may be the case with this story.

Columbia, MO (locally known as ‘COMO’) is a progressive college town in central Missouri, home of the University of Missouri. The town’s airport is notable not just as the regional airport, but also for its extraordinary level of federal subsidy. In 2014, [KCOU] had 20,958 airport operations, thus averaged 29 takeoffs per day. ATC services are provided by a federal contract control tower, with controllers handling just two takeoffs per hour. The airport is relatively large, at 1,538 acres, and averages $2.5 million annually in FAA grant monies for maintenance and further development. Passengers (who pay the flight taxes FAA grants each year) have no choices at this airport. American Airlines is the only commercial carrier, with four total departures each day, two each feeding passengers to their super-hubs at O’Hare and DFW.

There is certainly a need for passenger air service in Columbia, MO. The airport is an asset. But, in a more rational national airspace system, this airport would not be as large as it is, nor as heavily subsidized. KCOU would be just as safe if it was much smaller (even down to just 200 acres), had no tower (saving roughly $600K/year), and received far less or even zero grant monies. The fact is, these subsidies primarily serve the industry (…just one airline (American) and one large tower contractor), the politicians (…who ‘bring home the bacon’ to get reelected), and the regulators (…especially the FAA retirees who supplement their retirement pensions by becoming ATC contractors).

Big Week in Santa Monica

Lots is happening in the next few days. A meeting of the Santa Monica Airport Commission (SMAC) on Monday, then a public Rally and a session of the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday.20150322.. [KSMO] busy week calendar 1-2-3

A copy of the 36-page Staff Report is viewable in the scrollable window below. Check back to this Post, as links for other resources will be added.


Links:
  • City Council HomepageThe Santa Monica City Council regularly meets at 5:30 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month in Council Chambers, located at City Hall, 1685 Main Street, Santa Monica. The City Council may hold additional special meetings, as needed.
  • July 1, 2015: Measure LC beginslatest Post by Airport2Park, a local nonprofit formed to support and promote the creation of a great park on the land that is currently Santa Monica Airport.
  • Martin Rubin’s Statement to the Santa Monica City CouncilDelivered on 3/23/2015, in preparation for the scheduled 3/24/2015 City Council meeting. Includes numerous links to supporting documents.

Harrison Ford Crashes into Santa Monica Airport Issue

A very good editorial in the Santa Monica Mirror, by columnist Steve Stajich. The kind that makes you think while also drawing at least a couple good laughs. Read the original online to also see the reader comments. The copy below can be ‘popped out’ for easy reading.

What Can FAA & NTSB do to Reduce HEMS Accidents?

In the past week, we have had two fatal crashes of helicopters providing ’emergency medical services’. Historical data shows that many of these ‘HEMS’ fatal accidents happen at nighttime, when flying in poor weather, especially in dark (moonless) conditions.

20150312.. HEMS crash, west of Eufaula Lake, mapSuch was the case with this latest accident, on March 12th. A pilot and two crewmembers were flying from Tulsa back to their EagleMed base at McAlester, Oklahoma [KMLC]. The flight ended up crashed in terrain to the west of Eufaula Lake (green box area), minutes prior to their planned arrival at McAlester.

On this particular night, in the area around McAlester, the moon (which was waning and illuminated at 63%) rose at 1:03AM, nearly two hours after the accident. Thus, it was a dark night.

Also on this night, the weather was deteriorating. When weather is poor, helicopter pilots choose to fly at lower altitudes, to stay below the bottom cloud layer. In sufficiently dark night conditions and at low altitudes, even a seasoned pilot may not see a tall tree, an antenna tower, or a mountain until the last second, if at all. Such conditions make helicopter transport far more risky than ground transport.

In the HEMS industry, company owners rake in huge profits if they can get their crews to be the first medical transport at the scene of an accident. But, they also earn large fees (exceeding $10,000)contracting with hospitals to fly patients from point A to point B. The problem is, the profit motive is so intense that many pilots have found it difficult to say ‘no’, even in the worst flying conditions. And, this problem is amplified by FAA’s rules for helicopter flying, which allow pilots to fly at any level – right down to the surface – to dodge declining weather. In many of the resulting accidents, the helicopter proceeded in declining visibility, to lower and lower altitudes, then impacted guy lines that support antenna towers.

And then there is the media coverage. When these HEMS accidents happen, the news coverage tends to focus superficially on the physical tragedy, while failing to investigate a key question: was there a real benefit, and was it necessary, to use a helicopter for the specific incident? The media tends to not ask these questions and, instead, waits for FAA and/or NTSB to comment about the risks involved. The problem, though, is that both agencies are pressured to stay quiet, so as not to undermine the profit potential of the HEMS industry.

Also, the media tends to paint the crash victims as heroic in their service. We are led to believe that others would have died if the HEMS crew had not selflessly risked life and limb to respond. In truth, though, accident histories have shown time and again that most nighttime HEMS accidents would have been avoided – and patients would have been just fine, too – if pilots had simply accepted the real risks and elected to wait for conditions to improve.

FAA is very much to blame for the fact these HEMS accidents continue to kill so many in the United States. FAA has the authority to regulate this industry, but chooses not to. For decades, the pattern has been to delay tighter rules and keep the safety rules fuzzy and ambiguous. Chronically, FAA does their best to not interfere with this or any aviation industry.

In this latest fatal HEMS accident, it is again tragic that a pilot was lost, that two others were injured, and that families and friends have been made to suffer. But, if we are to move beyond repeats of these accidents, we need real and timely information. If there is evidence suggesting decisions were made that were too risky, that evidence needs to be revealed to the Public ASAP.

It would be helpful if the FAA and NTSB became more assertive in sharing information about these HEMS accidents. Perhaps, within 48-hours of each accident, they should post the preliminary information that helps the news media (and readers) to assess answers to the following questions:

  • What was the purpose of the flight? I.e., was it for routine transfer of a stable patient, or was it an accident response?
  • What was the specific urgency that necessitated use of a helicopter instead of ground transportation? Or, was there no benefit to a patient?
  • Was weather possibly a factor (i.e., what were the nearest reported weather conditions)?
  • Was darkness possibly a factor (i.e., what were the known conditions)?

See also: