Houston-based air ambulance service Memorial Hermann Life Flight has become the first air-ambulance programme in southeast Texas to be granted authority to conduct flights under instrument flight rules (IFR) by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the company has announced. This new capability allows Life Flight crews to utilise aircraft flight instruments and advanced navigation systems rather than relying solely on visual cues under visual flight rules (VFR).
“By becoming IFR-certified, we are now able to operate safely during the en route phase regardless of visibility and cloud ceilings,” said Christopher ‘Todd’ Grubbs, chief pilot of Life Flight. “This capability allows our crews to serve the community when weather conditions might restrict flights under VFR. We can go above the clouds or in the clouds using our autopilot and our navigation instrumentation. Every airline conducts flights using IFR, and now we are operating under the same conditions.”
It’s estimated that Life Flight, which is part of the Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute, currently misses an average of 600 flights annually due to inclement weather, affecting close to 15 per cent of patient flight requests. While some flights may still not be possible in cases of extremely bad weather, the use of IFR will significantly expand Life Flight’s ability to safely serve the community since weather decisions for flight requests can now be made with greater certainty.
“The maximum benefit of flying under IFR is to avoid the risks associated with flying during those conditions. The safety of our crew and patients is our number one priority,” said Grubbs.