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If your loved one is currently being flown by a medical helicopter to the hospital, there’s less than a 50% chance that the helicopter is equipped with an electronic system that warns of terrain and other obstacles. That is about to change.

The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed new rules for helicopters, which would pose strict requirements on medical helicopters to have the Helicopter Terrain Awareness and Warning System (HTAWS). The FAA cited the number of medical helicopter crashes and deaths as the primary driving force for the new regulations. In 2008 alone, 24 people died from 6 medical helicopter crashes. This year alone, crashes in Arkansas and South Carolina have taken the lives of medical crews and pilots.

The regulation on the electronic system will hopefully increase the safety of medical helicopter travel. Air ambulances frequently have to fly at low altitudes in bad weather and over treacherous terrain. The FAA has submitted additional regulations that will implement stricter weather limitations for medical helicopter pilots flying under visual flight rules, or without the aid of navigational instruments.

The public will have a three month time period during which to comment on the proposed rules before they go into effect.

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