Commentary: Thank You For Not Flying
Helicopter ambulances could be hazardous to your health.
- By Bryan E. Bledsoe M.D.
- Air & Space magazine, July 2006
(Page 3 of 3)
But the increase in the number of medical helicopters has also resulted in a marked decrease in the number of qualified pilots, flight nurses, and paramedics available for hire. The rise in demand, accompanied by the retirement of Vietnam-era pilots from the medical helicopter ranks, has caused many medical helicopter operators to drop the minimum number of flight hours they require of pilot applicants. Furthermore, because flights equal revenue, some pilots are being pushed to fly in questionable conditions.
The tremendous increase in the medical helicopter accident rate prompted Johns Hopkins School of Public Health researchers to evaluate emergency medical service helicopter crashes from 1983 through April 2005. They found that being a member of a medical flight crew is now among the most dangerous occupations in the United States—six times more dangerous than standard occupations and twice as dangerous as mining and farming—similar in riskiness to the duties of combat pilots in wartime.
Here in the land of plenty, we have created a system that has taken a useful tool—the medical helicopter—and transformed it into the most dangerous and most expensive transport modality available.