Full Crew Flight Monitoring: mitigating the unique hazards in HEMS operations.

Italy HEMS

EASA’s Annual Safety Recommendations Review 2019 has identified HEMS as one of its key safety topics noting that,

“EASA has received several Safety Recommendations over the last years related to this topic.”

before going on to comment that,

“There are several unique hazards faced by Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) operations. The time pressure, planning challenges and environmental factors associated with air ambulance operations makes them inherently high risk operations.”

The Safety Review now identifies Q3 2021 as the likely date for the drafting of new rules on HEMS operations in the form of an Opinion to be submitted to the EU Commission.

Three years on from a fatal HEMS accident in Italy that led to the some of the recommendations for change in this area, it seems that one of the areas that EASA intends to focus on is the greater provision of multi-pilot operations where flight conditions are complex enough to require a higher level of monitoring of the flying pilot.

Two years after I first wrote about crew monitoring for single-pilot helicopter operations, (Monitoring for Technical Crew) and the important safety role it should have to play, it is interesting to note that there appears to be no recognition of this in the current proposals, which instead seem to perpetuate the status quo of regarding monitoring as an activity that is exclusively limited to the cockpit rather than being a whole crew responsibility.

EASA describes that ongoing work currently includes proposals to:

“Draw up Guidance Material applicable to daytime flights…which provide indications about the opportunity of using two pilots in specific geographical areas where the orography and the possible sudden changes in visibility can make the conduct of the flight problematic, requiring, even as a preventive measure, the monitoring of controls and instruments.”

Their objective is to,

“Maintain a high aviation safety level by reviewing the requirements related to HEMS flights by day or night, regarding equipment, training, minima, and operating/hospital site illumination.”

To date, there is still nothing that requires training on monitoring for helicopter technical crew or non-pilot crew members that goes beyond the basic annual recurrent CRM syllabus. This in itself does not focus in on the important safety implications of this topic. The fact that none of the published material on monitoring from any source considers the role of flight crew members beyond the cockpit also underlines the lack of attention that appears to be given to the function that non-pilot crew could and should have in monitoring all aspects of the flight, as well as monitoring the pilots themselves.

CRM is defined in CAP 737 as “The effective use of all available resources, equipment, procedures, supporting services and, above all, people to perform a task as efficiently and safely as possible”. All HEMS crews are made up of more than just a pilot or two. If EASA are serious about instigating a step change in helicopter safety, then it is time to acknowledge the whole crew concept and adjust the focus accordingly.

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