United States Sues Air Methods For Operating Air-Ambulance Helicopter With "Severely Corroded" Components
DENVER – United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn filed a complaint for civil penalties today against Air Methods Corporation. The Complaint alleges that Air Methods violated Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) regulations by operating an emergency-services helicopter on 51 flights after having been notified by the FAA that the helicopter’s pitot-tubes—parts necessary to determine airspeed—were “severely corroded.”
The FAA regulates the operation of aircraft within the United States. As part of the FAA’s mission to ensure safety, the FAA routinely inspects aircraft within its jurisdiction.
The complaint alleges that on November 4, 2014, an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector inspected an Air Methods helicopter in Tampa, Florida. During that inspection, the safety inspector noticed that the helicopter’s pitot tubes were severely corroded. A pitot tube is a component of the pressure measurement system used to determine airspeed. If a pitot tube is not functioning properly, it can cause the airspeed reflected on a helicopter’s instruments to vary significantly from the actual airspeed, which can present serious safety concerns. The complaint alleges that Air Methods was aware of the hazards of operating aircraft with severely corroded pitot tubes, as it had previously experienced a helicopter incident where burnt and corroded pitot tubes became clogged, causing the helicopter’s auto-pilot to partially disengage and the aircraft’s instruments to suddenly indicate an airspeed of 30 knots higher than the helicopter’s actual speed.
The complaint alleges that, after being notified by the FAA that the pitot tubes on its helicopter were severely corroded, Air Methods did not fix or replace the corroded parts, but instead continued to operate the helicopter on 51 flights. The complaint alleges that, by continuing to operate the helicopter with severely corroded pitot tubes, Air Methods violated applicable federal regulations. The complaint seeks to recover civil penalties from Air Methods up to the maximum amount allowed by law for the alleged regulatory violations.
“When a federal safety inspector notifies an air-ambulance company that one of its helicopters has a potential safety issue, the company must address that issue,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn. “Air Methods kept the helicopter in the air despite being warned about the corroded pitot tubes, and we intend to hold the company accountable for its actions.”
This case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Kellogg in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado.