Pilot looks to be in significant FAA trouble
OSHA ruled for whistleblower [scheduling and rest]
Might Boston MedFlight have been better off with voluntary Flight and Duty Limitations and Rest Requirements
A pilot for Boston MedFlight is accused of falling asleep while in the air.
The FAA tells Boston 25 News that it is investigating after a Boston MedFlight pilot allegedly fell asleep while flying a helicopter to a Boston hospital from Martha’s Vineyard. The incident allegedly happened June 24.
Boston MedFlight says the pilot, “overflew the designated helipad,” before going on to say that the transport was made successfully and without injury to anyone onboard.
The organization released a statement on the incident, which read in part:
“Our investigation determined that fatigue was a factor and we are now working with a fatigue management consultant and a safety consultant to review our policies and procedures so that this isolated incident does not happen again. Throughout our 34-year history as a nonprofit organization providing critical care medical transport to over 75,000 patients in need, the safety of our patients and crews has always been our highest priority.”
It should be noted that Boston MedFlight (BMF) (incorporated as New England Life Flight) is a non-profit organization that provides emergency scene response and emergency interfacility transfer. BMF’s team holds numerous certifications- nurses (Certified Flight Registered Nurse, Certified Emergency Nurse); Th EMTs (Massachusetts Department of Public Health ambulance staffing guidelines; Transport Specialists (paramedics) (Certified Flight Paramedics). The pilots hold ATP Ratings.
The company defines the pilots responsibilities as follows:
The Pilot-in-Command position (PIC) is responsible for the safe and efficient conduct of a flight assignment. The PIC processes flight assignments received from MedFlight’s Communications Center and determines whether to accept or decline a flight assignment based on weather conditions or other factors that may impact the safety of flight. The PIC will evaluate Visual Flight Rules (VFR) options and Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) options when applicable. He/she will work collaboratively with other members of the medical flight team.
ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
Pilot-In-Command Job Description
- Complies with all FAA Regulations, The General Operating Manual (GOM), safety manual, training manual and all other Boston MedFlight policies and procedures.
- Reports for duty not less than 15 minutes prior to an assigned shift. This is for the accomplishment of briefings, preflight inspections and paperwork.
Sounds like the pilot faces some significant trouble with the FAA.
Boston MedFlight does not hold a Part 121 certificate; so 14 CFR Part 117 – Flight and Duty Limitations and Rest Requirements: Flightcrew Members- is not directly applicable. Their rules are found in 14 CFR Part 135. However, in the promulgation of Part 117, the FAA expressed its views on managing fatigue after a long and heavily researched process:
This final rule addresses fatigue risk in several ways. The underlying philosophy of the rule is that no single element of the rule mitigates the risk of fatigue to an acceptable level; rather, the FAA has adopted a system approach, whereby both the carrier and the pilot accept responsibility for mitigating fatigue. The carrier provides an environment that permits sufficient sleep and recovery periods, and the crewmembers take advantage of that environment. Both parties must meet their respective responsibilities in order to adequately protect the flying public.
To be Very, Very clear, BMF is not required to comply with the new rules or approach. However, after its encounter with OSHA (next paragraph), management would have been well advised to have become acquainted with these concepts.
There is history:
Kurt Niland May 11, 2018
Federal officials have ordered a Massachusetts-based emergency medical air transport company to compensate and reinstate a pilot whistleblower who was fired after reporting concerns about safety violations to federal regulators.
While stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, in December 2015, the helicopter pilot voiced his apprehension to his employer, Boston MedFlight, about whether a new scheduling policy provided pilots with the required rest time as mandated by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
The following month, the pilot contacted the FAA to register his concerns about the scheduling. Boston MedFlight fired the pilot in March 2016 after he declined two flight assignments because he believed the company had not given him the required amount of rest.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which investigates allegations of wrongful termination and whistleblower retaliation across several industries, opened a probe of the pilot’s complaints.
The agency concluded that Boston MedFlight terminated the pilot for reporting safety concerns, a protected activity under the whistleblower provisions of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21).
Under AIR21, an employee of an air carrier or its contractors or subcontractors is protected from retaliation for reporting alleged violations of federal laws related to aviation safety.
OSHA ordered Boston MedFlight to reinstate the whistleblower pilot and pay him $133,616 in back wages and interest plus $100,000 in compensatory damages and attorney fees. Additionally, Boston MedFlight must refrain from retaliating against the pilot and post a workplace notice informing all employees of their AIR21 whistleblower protections.
“This pilot should be commended – not penalized – for raising legitimate safety concerns that can affect him, his co-workers, and the general public,” said Galen Blanton, OSHA Boston-area Regional Administrator.
After the OSHA whistleblower determination, might not Boston MedFlight have considered updating its voluntary Flight and Duty Limitations and Rest Requirements? The actual fatigue incident adds to the need for better BMF hindsight!!!
 Part 135 – Flightcrew members are required to comply with specific duty time and rest requirements. The rules are complicated, but generally provide for a maximum assigned 14 hour duty day, limitations on the number of flight hours during a 24-hour period and required rest periods. Once a flightcrew member has reached his or her limit, that flightcrew member may not fly until the applicable rest requirements have been satisfied.
 To be honest the OSHA duplication of FAA jurisdiction is troublesome. There is no indication of whether the FAA opined either incident. OSHA’s Jurisdiction Over Aircraft Worker Safety Began; Duplication Of Regulation?; OSHA Decision In Face Of FAA Determination Creates Conundrum
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