Company plans fuel tank changes on EMS helicopters

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Washington, DC, November 2, 2015 | comments

This content was orginally published on KUSA on October 29th, 2015.

KUSA – Following a series of stories by 9Wants to Know on the tendency of helicopter fuel tanks to rupture following low-impact crashes, one of the major owners of EMS helicopters in the country says it's committed to retrofitting the fuel systems on its entire fleet of one helicopter in particular.

Englewood-based Air Methods released a statement to 9Wants to Know this week saying it intends to start retrofitting its fleet of Airbus AS-350s as early as next year. Air Methods was the owner of the Flight for Life helicopter that crashed in Frisco earlier this year.While it's not believed the pilot died as a result of the fire that followed the crash, a flight nurse suffered burns on more than 90% of his body and remains hospitalized in critical condition at University of Colorado Hospital's burn unit.

The statement read, in part, "Air Methods is committed to retrofitting 100% of our Airbus AS350/EC130 (H125/H130) fleet, and we are working directly with a third party who is seeking certification for a crash resistant fuel system for the entire Airbus line. We expect a crashworthy system to be certified in 2016 for the AS350/EC130 (H125/H130) fleet. For us, it's about doing the right thing."

Air Methods owns, according to FAA data, more than 70 AS-350s and the move is expected to cost millions.

9Wants to Know has found at least 173 fatal helicopter crashes that resulted in post-crash fires since 1994.

The FAA changed the rules for helicopter fuel systems in 1994, but only made crash-resistant fuel systems mandatory for helicopters certified after 1994.

It did not apply to all newly built helicopters. Thus, for example, the year-old AS-350 that crashed in Frisco in July had a fuel system that needed only to meet the standards in place when the model was first certified by the FAA in 1977.

In July, a few weeks after the Frisco crash, the chairman of the NTSB issued a safety recommendation to the FAA calling for the FAA to start requiring all new helicopters, no matter the date of certification, be required to have fuel systems that would, at the very least, meet the 1994 standards.

Recently FAA Administratror Micheal Huerta said the FAA would start the process of considering the request right away, but it's a process that historically can take years.

Last week, after looking into 9Wants to Know reports,two Colorado congressmen wrote a letter to the FAA urging it to speed up the process.

"I don't know what's taking so long with this," admitted Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado). "We need to get on with it."

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