Safer helicopters may be closer than safety advocates and industry experts anticipated and that’s because the “Helicopter Fuel System Safety Act” has been introduced in Congress. The proposed legislation “would require helicopter manufacturers to place crashworthy [also known as crash-resistant] fuel systems onboard every newly built helicopter starting a year after the bill’s passage.”
As we discussed in the July Report, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was coming up on a deadline for acting to close a loophole in its 1994 standards update that allowed all helicopters certified before 1994 – even if they rolled off the assembly line new this year – to continue using flimsy fuel tanks that were designed decades ago. The deadline was part of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which was a 14-month extension of the FAA Reauthorization Act outlining reforms across the aviation industry.
These outdated fuel tanks are not crash-resistant and have resulted in post-crash fires that caused nearly 40 percent of the fatalities in helicopter crashes since the standards were purportedly updated in 1994. The FAA’s inaction has been a major problem. Hopefully, the legislation will pass and become law. If not more lives will be lost because of a loophole that puts helicopter manufacturers’ profits over safety.
A tragic crash in Colorado was said to have been the reason this legislation was introduced by Colorado lawmakers. The helicopter involved in the July 2015 fiery crash of Air Methods Flight for Life that occurred in Frisco, Colorado, was manufactured in 2014. Because the model had been certified in 1977, the FAA 1994 loophole said that it could use an outdated fuel system. The fuel system caused a post-crash fire that claimed the life of the pilot and seriously injured a flight nurse on board. We described this tragic incident in a previous Report.
Congressmen Jared Potts and Ed Perimutter co-sponsored the legislation. In a show of bipartisan support, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, added an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act “that would require the FAA to alert helicopter owners of fuel system retrofits” and “urge owners to install the retrofits ‘as soon as practicable.’”
Nearly 84 percent of the helicopters manufactured between 1994 and 2016 still rely on the outdated fuel tanks – demonstrating the need for faster action to mandate safer standards. Hopefully this needed legislation will pass and become law.
Source: KUSA 9News
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