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United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn announced that Air Methods Corporation has agreed to pay $825,000 to settle a civil case alleging that the company violated Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations by operating an emergency-services helicopter with severely corroded pitot tubes.
Pitot tubes are components 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, cause the helicopter’s auto-pilot to disengage, and present serious safety concerns.
Air Methods, headquartered in Greenwood Village, Colorado, is the largest air medical transport services provider in the U.S. Air Methods provides emergency transportation to trauma victims, and other patients requiring urgent transfers between medical facilities on its fleet of more than 450 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
Air Methods’ aviation operations are regulated by the FAA, which, as part of its mission to ensure safety, routinely inspects aircraft within its jurisdiction.
The United States contends 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 and crumbling to the touch. The inspector informed Air Methods and took photographs to document the corrosion.
When Air Methods showed the photographs to the manufacturer of the helicopter, an employee of the manufacturer responded that the parts were “obviously” outside the scope of what would be considered serviceable to keep a pitot tube in service and recommended replacing the part(s) “as soon as possible.” Internally, Air Methods’ employees agreed that severely corroded pitot tubes “are way beyond acceptable” and “indicative that our crews are not paying attention.” Even so, Air Methods continued to operate the helicopter with severely corroded pitot tubes for several more days before replacing the parts.