Perlmutter, Polis Introduce Bill to Update Safety Standards for Crash Resistant Helicopter Fuel Systems

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Washington, DC, February 12, 2016 | comments

Perlmutter, Polis Introduce Bill to Update Safety Standards for Crash Resistant Helicopter Fuel Systems

Bill requires FAA to expedite rulemaking and finalize by December 31, 2016

Today, U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) and Jared Polis (CO-02) introduced the Helicopter Fuel System Safety Act to require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to finalize a rulemaking by December 31, 2016 requiring all newly manufactured helicopters to be built with crash resistant fuel systems. The December 31st deadline set forth in the bill mandates a more expedited process than the two and a half years or more outlined by the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC). On November 5, 2015, the FAA tasked ARAC with evaluating potential changes to helicopter safety regulations – a process which starts with a cost-benefit analysis expected in May, followed by 18-months of study, which then will be followed by the rulemaking which could likely take another year.

“The ARAC process is simply too long. We need to get this done now because we’ve known about this safety issue for decades, yet we continue to allow new helicopters to be manufactured without crash resistant fuel systems,” said Rep. Perlmutter. “The NTSB and the FAA both determined this is a safety issue, and the FAA needs to act with expediency to ensure all newly manufactured helicopters meet the appropriate safety standards and prevent needless injuries or deaths.”

“The FAA’s dangerous, antiquated safety loophole has already cost far too many lives,” said Rep. Polis. “Last summer’s tragic Flight for Life crash in Frisco highlights the urgent need for action. The technology exists to prevent these tragedies, and Congress has a responsibility to act when federal safety regulations are failing the people they are meant to protect.”

On July 3, 2015, a Flight for Life helicopter took off in Frisco, CO and seconds later crashed in a parking lot next to the hospital. Experts have said the crash itself was largely survivable, but the post-crash fire contributed to the death of the pilot and severely burned the two flight nurses. Later that month, NTSB released a safety recommendation based on a separate 2014 crash urging the FAA to require newly manufactured helicopters to comply with 1994 crash resistant fuel system standards. Military helicopters have been built using crash resistant fuel systems dating back to the 1970s. However, the FAA’s 1994 fuel system standards only require new helicopter designs certified after 1994 to comply with these standards. As a result of this loophole, over 4,700 helicopters have been built since 1994 with only 15% being built with crash resistant fuel systems. There have been at least 173 post-crash fires and at least 78 deaths due to post-crash fire since the standard was published in 1994. 

Reps. Perlmutter and Polis also sent a letter in October of 2015 pushing the FAA to move quickly and efficiently to revise its safety regulations regarding crash resistant fuel systems for civil helicopters. “Rulemakings often take years, and while diligence is important to this process it is also imperative we begin addressing these needless deaths immediately. As members of the Colorado delegation, we respectfully request your full commitment to move through this particular rulemaking, while maintaining all integrity and safety, as quickly as possible,” the letter stated.

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