The French air traffic controllers union SNCTA on Friday canceled a strike scheduled for April 29 to May 2 after receiving assurances that a proposal made Monday by the French civil aviation authority DGAC stands as firm. Moreover, the union said it does not want to disrupt travelers' plans, especially during a popular vacation period. However, it added it will remain "very vigilant" about how the proposal gets implemented.
At the heart of the dispute are negotiations over DGAC proposals to change employment terms and conditions, and in particular to increase the retirement age for controllers from 57 to 59. Evidently, SNCTA's main concern has not simply been the proposals themselves but what they see as the government's refusal to allow special negotiating terms for the controllers, who insist that they should be treated as a special category of transportation employees.
After conducting a highly-disruptive strike on April 8 and 9, the SNCTA now has expressed satisfaction with the outcome of an April 13 meeting with the DGAC, but it says it remains wary of possible setbacks over the course of ongoing negotiations. It remains unclear what concessions DGAC officials have actually agreed in terms of how negotiations will be handled.
The negotiation framework centers on an agreement that encompasses all of the DGAC and must undergo renewal every three years; schedules call for signing of the next memorandum late this year. The SNCTA wants controller-related aspects negotiated at the controller level, as opposed to a wider scheme that used to also involve other categories of personnel.
During the April 13 meeting, the DGAC accepted a new method that will take into account "the peculiarities of our job," said Olivier Giuge, one of the SNCTA's national secretaries.
The FAA said it plans to fine Englewood, Colo.-based Air Methods $1.54 million for allegedly operating Eurocopter EC-130s on 83 flights when they were not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations. The FAA alleges Air Methods operated two helicopters on 70 passenger-carrying flights for compensation or hire, over water and beyond power-off gliding distance from shore, when they lacked required helicopter flotation devices and flotation gear for each occupant. The agency alleges the company operated another helicopter on 13 such flights when it also lacked required flotation gear for each occupant. All 83 flights by the emergency medical transport company occurred around Pensacola, Fla.
Air Methods has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA's civil penalty letter to respond to the agency.
A New York investment bank has signed an agreement to acquire the second-largest U.S. helicopter EMS company. Funds managed by KKR have acquired Air Medical Group Holdings (AMGH) of Lewisville, Texas. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources reported the value of the deal at close to $2 billion. The transaction, which KKR is funding primarily from its North America XI Fund, is expected to close in the second quarter of this year and is subject to customary regulatory approvals. KKR has more than $96 billion under management.
AMGH and its affiliates, including Air Evac Lifeteam, operate 222 helicopters and 25 fixed-wing aircraft from 231 bases in 27 states. It is the second-largest U.S. helicopter EMS company, behind Air Methods. Last year AMGH-affiliated aircraft transported more than 75,000 patients and its ground ambulances transported 120,000. KKR has a diversified portfolio of investments in health care and aviation companies, including Panasonic Healthcare and Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) Holdings, and has invested in helicopter-related companies such as OGP service company Westar Aviation in Malaysia and Avincis. KKR led the $31.6 billion acquisition of HCA in 2006, at the time the largest leveraged buyout on record of an American company.
Since 2010, AMGH has been owned by Bain Capital of Boston and Brockway Moran & Partners. Bain was a minority partner with KKR in the HCA acquisition. KKR executive Jim Momtazee left no doubt that the investment bank plans to build AMGH, referring to it as "Air Medical" in a prepared statement that accompanied the acquisition announcement. "Air Medical provides a vital service in the health-care market," he said. "Having followed Air Medical for several years, we believe that the company is poised for service expansion, and we look forward to partnering with management on this next phase of its evolution."
AMGH companies include Air Evac Lifeteam, Med-Trans and EagleMed. Air Evac operates from 95 bases in 14 states and flies more than 100 Bell 206L LongRangers. The company is based in West Plains, Mo. Dallas-based Med-Trans partners with hospital systems, medical centers and EMS agencies through 20 programs, representing 36 bases across 15 states. Med-Trans' service models include alternative delivery/shared resource, community-based or traditional hospital-based. Med-Trans operates more than 40 helicopters, mostly Bell 407s. EagleMed, headquartered in Wichita, operates from 16 community-based locations across three states, using more than 20 Airbus helicopters and Hawker Beechcraft turboprops.
The FAA is hosting its first International Rotorcraft Safety Conference beginning from April 21 through 23 at the Hurst Conference Center near Fort Worth, Texas. The free initiative will focus on intervention recommendations to reduce the number of fatal helicopter accidents. The target audience is rotorcraft pilots, mechanics, small company owners, industry executives, operators and government regulators from the U.S. and abroad. Attendees can expect presentations by the NTSB and survivors of helicopter accidents or near-accidents, as well as an FAA-led discussion of patterns in fatal helicopter accidents.
Attendees will also have the opportunity to meet with prospective employers at a career fair. Day three is International Day, featuring presentations from the European Aviation Safety Agency, Transport Canada, the FAA and industry groups. Specific session topics include autorotation, single-pilot resource management, installation of NextGen technology, night-vision system maintenance and human factors in maintenance.