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Air Ambulances Agree to Protocol Upgrades

Air Ambulances Agree to Protocol Upgrades

Wreckage of the Guardian Air helicopter involved in a midair collision of two medical helicopters sits on a flatbed trailer in July 2008 for transportation to Phoenix and the just-completed NTSB investigation. (Arizona Fire Company)

The Arizona Daily Star via YellowBrix

March 22, 2010

McCall said the meeting began with a relatively blank slate and open dialogue among the seven companies that would eventually shape the policy.

The recent change in protocols, says FMC spokeswoman Janet Dean, is not related to a number of lawsuits filed against the hospital and Guardian Air related to the 2008 mid-air collision between the two medical helicopters en route to the hospital. The families of those who were killed in the accident have filed at least three wrongful death lawsuits.

“The protocols for approaching FMC’s helipad are procedures used by other helipads across the state and are in the FAA’s Aeronautical information manual. This specifically states using this frequency as its recommended practice for EMS helicopters approaching the helipad,” Dean said.

But the most recent version of the FAA manual only offers “best practices” related to communications between pilots and carries no force of law. The practices have been in the manual for several years, an FAA spokesperson said.


Under the new protocols, transport coordinators at Flagstaff Medical Center will track and monitor only Guardian Air helicopters.

The NTSB investigation found that lapses in the hospital’s communication protocols may have contributed to the midair collision above Flagstaff.

The two aircraft collided on a clear, sunny day without apparently seeing each other.

The NTSB report, issued last May, suggested a dispatcher with Page-based air ambulance company may not have relayed important information to the Classic pilot.

To technically comply with FMC’s old protocols, incoming helicopters needed only to relay their position and estimated time of arrival once during the entire flight.

Under the new protocols, pilots approaching FMC will need to broadcast their location, route being flown and their altitude four separate times, the first 10 nautical miles (the equivalent of 11.5 miles) from the hospital.

Protocols for flight nurses to communicate directly with emergency staff remain largely unchanged, but medical staff at the hospital would be unlikely to discuss other incoming aircraft as part of routine communications.

McCall said the new policy is expected to be revisited in the coming weeks, but he notes that Guardian Air is already testing the new protocols for any possible flaws.