Feds allege air ambulance firm flew unsafe chopper 51 times

air methods helicopter

An Air Methods helicopter in California in 2016. (Alan Wilson, Creative Commons)

The federal government has accused a Greenwood Village-based air ambulance company of violating safety issues in connection with one of its helicopters.

Air Methods Corp., which said on its website that it operates in 48 states, was sued last week in federal court in Denver.

According to the lawsuit, on Nov. 4, 2014, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector working in Tampa, Florida, determined that an Airbus EC-135 the company owned had pitot tubes that were “severely corroded,” and informed the company.

A pitot tube is a component of the pressure measurement system used to determine an aircraft’s airspeed, according to the lawsuit. If not working properly, it can cause instruments to show the craft is traveling at a speed that varies “significantly” from its actual speed.

After learning of the problem, Air Methods flew the aircraft 51 times over the next week, the government claims. The company finally fixed the problem on Nov. 12, 2014.

The government said Air Methods’ actions violate FAA regulations requiring aircraft in use to be “airworthy.”

The feds allege Air Methods knew the significance of corroded pitot tubes because the company previously experienced an incident in which burnt and corroded tubes became clogged, causing a helicopter’s auto-pilot to partially disengage and instruments to indicate an airspeed 30 knots higher than the craft’s actual speed.

Air Methods faces a civil penalty of up to $27,500 per flight, or $1.4 million. A spokesman said in an email that the company “vigorously disputes the allegations,” but declined to comment further.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Kellogg in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado is handling the case.

Air Methods has been hit with multiple lawsuits in the past accusing it of overcharging patients.

air methods helicopter
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