Although the air ambulance industry only forms a small part of the aviation industry, it is still a part of it. The aviation industry on the whole contributes about 2% of all human-generated carbon dioxide – in other words, about 915 million tonnes of it. There have been several attempts to contain this pollution. For instance, the air ambulance industry has been increasingly looking at electric-powered aircraft. Besides, drones are being tested to carry out tasks that an air ambulance normally undertakes. However, the success has been limited and the impact minimal as of now.
Air Ambulance Industry and Green Fuel
Speaking of green fuel, hydrogen is one thing that comes to mind. Considered the cleanest form of fuel, hydrogen can definitely transform the scene for the air ambulance industry. However, the production of hydrogen itself is not green and it can produce as much CO2 as fossil fuels. The net green advantage, therefore, is zero. That said, not all hope is lost. There is also carbon-neutral hydrogen, but disappointingly, it makes for only about 1% of the global production. This clean hydrogen is produced by electrolyzing water. The reason that it is not currently popular is its cost. The air ambulance industry might not be able to adopt it due to this fact.
What About Liquefied Natural Gas?
Liquefied natural gas or LNG is something that the air ambulance industry can look at if there is a change in the fuel infrastructure. It will take a holistic infrastructural change in the aviation industry for air ambulance services to adopt it. However, if it is achieved, the carbon footprint can be brought down to a huge extent. LNG is known to emit up to 30% less CO2. Besides, it can bring down the nitrous oxide emissions by up to 80%. It is also much lighter than conventional aviation fuel.
It can be safely said that its options galore today. All it takes is a bit of will to adopt.
If there is one thing that’s constant about medical flights, it is the fact that the industry is continually reinventing itself. From electric medical flights that are capable of vertical takeoff to dashboards that keep the crew updated with all the information they need during the flight, the sector is full of innovations. However, these innovations bring along something that the industry and its consumers do not desire, and that is the increase in costs. Balancing costs and enhanced efficiency is something that the industry has grappled with for quite some time. The question that arises is whether the innovations are proving too expensive for the industry.
The Rising Cost of Medical Flights has been a Long-Time Concern
The cost of medical flights never fails to make headlines. When middle-class families get slapped with huge air ambulance bills, eyebrows are naturally raised. The insurance coverage is often non-existent or so scant that they fail to cover the costs.
Innovations, in the midst of all this, can prove to be an added cost burden discouraging the industry to go ahead with them. Contributing further to it is the training and adaptation cost that adds fuel to fire. Then, what is the solution?
Rethinking the Least Likely Spaces
Fuel is one area that is a money burner. Aviation fuel does not come cheap. Moreover, the fuel itself is heavy, which translates into a need for more fuel to carry it. What if a predictive technology can be innovated to maintain optimum fuel levels? The other area is the material that goes into building the medical flights. What if the material that is lighter and less friction-causing is innovated? The list goes on. Of course, the focus needs to be trained on affordability.
All the research should ideally be funded by governments, communities, and corporates together with industry leaders. A model like this can truly take the costs in the right direction.
The air ambulance industry has seen several technological advancements in recent times and so have drone designs. However, it is noteworthy that there are not many drones being used in the civilian space meaningfully. Of course, drones are being used in the military space extensively and with high success rates. What is stopping drones from entering the air ambulance industry? This is a question that naturally arises. In this context, it must be noted that it was the military that first adopted medical flights, which eventually became what we refer to today as the civilian air ambulance industry.
What will it Take Drones to Enter the Air Ambulance Industry?
Military drones usually function in no-man zones in war-torn or border areas where there are not many obstructions. They have a fixed task and a fixed target. There is a huge support system on the ground that adds to the functionality of the drones. However, this is not yet the case with the air ambulance industry. Looking at it from a civilian perspective, most of the drones would need to function in areas that are teeming with people, vehicles, and urban infrastructure. These translate into obstacles. Navigating through them is easier said than done.
Obstacle Avoidance is Key to Success
What if the drones are able to avoid obstacles on their own without the need for external interference? A sensory advancement like this can make a huge difference. Come to think of it, the feat is not impossible, especially considering the fact that this is precisely what autonomous vehicles do.
Of course, navigability is another issue. The ground controls that can remotely monitor the drones are limited by range. While satellite controls can be brought into the picture, the danger of misuse of such technological access looms large. The need, therefore, is for a middle ground where safety and efficiency are both ensured. For now, it is a game of wait-and-watch.
Technology has taken over almost all parts of our daily lives today, so it is no surprise that the air ambulance industry is evolving technologically. However, most of the changes have been focussing on making the flights safer and the equipment more effective. What about the information that the air ambulance crew handles every day? There has not been significant progress in this realm. Most of the information is exchanged via paper even today. It must be pointed out that some of the information is shared electronically, but there is a problem. The information sharing is mostly scattered and there is no one-stop solution to it as of now.
Electronic Flight Bags can Transform Air Ambulance Functioning
From standard operating procedures to weather forecasts, there is a sea of information that the crew needs to be aware of during each flight. Wouldn’t it be great if all the relevant information is found under one umbrella? Electronic flight bags can do the trick. A well-connected device that brings all the information under a dashboard is the ideal solution. The information needs to be dynamic as factors such as weather can change constantly. The ecosystem can be interconnected to several sources through a centralized data cloud.
What are the Limitations?
The air ambulance industry is highly regulated. Therefore, the electronic flight bag system would need approval from the relevant authorities and will need to remain in compliance. Then, there is the issue of connectivity. Without continuous connectivity, no cloud system works efficiently. With the air ambulance services often operating in remote areas, wireless internet connectivity can be an issue. Also, uniformity in sharing the data needs to be there so that all the systems involved speak to each other in a common language to avoid misinterpretation, duplication, or omission of critical data.
Despite all the limitations, it is hoped that the air ambulance industry will overcome them in the interest of smoother and more efficient operations.
Innovations in the medical flight industry are exciting, to say the least. The penchant for doing something new is always is never missing. The industry is known to encourage innovations that make medical flights more efficient, safe, and cheap. Treading this exact line is the newest innovation that stems from Australia. Capable of carrying four passengers at one go, this new medical flight can zoom at speeds of 186 miles per hour but that fact is not what makes it so special. This scientific wonder can fly a distance of 155 miles on battery. If you felt that was an impressive distance, digest this: it can go up to 500 miles on a hydrogen power train. Impressive, isn’t it?
The Uniqueness of the Medical Flight
Fitted with a total of eight propellers, the medical flight is capable of vertical takeoff and is considered to be safer than traditional helicopters. Made of carbon fiber for lightweight as well as sturdiness, the innovation is capable of transforming the medical flight industry. The company which makes this aerial vehicle, AMSL Aero, is developing it in conjunction with CareFlight to cater to the industry. Along with its high energy efficiency, it also produces less noise, which means patients will be more comfortable traveling in it.
The Cost is Much Lesser
It is believed that maintaining and running this medical flight will cost as little as a car in the future. Moreover, it can be flown with or without a pilot. Once in the market, the air ambulance will be the answer to healthcare access for rural communities, which are currently facing a shortage of hospitals and depend on medical flights for access to appropriate medical care in the urban areas. Moreover, it has other applications too. It can be deployed to put out the forest fires that are such a problem the world over today.
Air ambulance services are as good as the speed with which they respond to emergencies. Many times the long paper trail – considered essential to remain compliant with rules – works adversely in the air ambulance services’ ability to respond on time. Going paperless can change the whole paradigm and bring efficiency to the services. It is not a tough feat to achieve in a world that is highly interconnected today. However, the various stakeholders involved in rescue and emergency response operations will have to come under one umbrella. It is only then that connectivity holds true meaning.
Air Ambulance Services Cannot Function in Isolation
The air ambulance services have always been at the forefront of technological innovation but going paperless and leveraging the Internet to its maximum is impossible without having all the stakeholders involved within a common network. With cloud computing technology now in place, it is an easy hurdle to overcome. All that is required is the will to do it. However, one must map out the various stakeholders effectively for this endeavor to be a grand success. Ground ambulances, treatment facilities, insurance providers, regulatory bodies, and the like must be a part of this all-encompassing network.
A Centralize Real-Time Database is Necessary
The United States today has a centralized repository of health records that is highly flexible. It allows all medical care providers to connect to a central database. It does not matter what operational software each provider uses, they can retrieve and add data securely from and to the common pool. What if the database was made wider? It could include emergency services. This would negate the need for paper and make coordination a completely seamless process. For patients, it would mean quicker and more transparent services. For air ambulance services, it would mean better reach and higher efficiency.
Medical flights can fly above almost any terrain but landing can be a worry. Rappelling from choppers has its own risk, putting the lives of the rescuers and the injured in grave danger. Spinning out of control and hitting adjacent rocks in a mountainous environment are just a few of the risks. That said, for people stranded in the toughest of the terrain with no access to roads, medical flights are the only recourse. However, these too are not without logistical restrictions. Reaching the stranded ones, especially when they are injured, is a logistical nightmare. Getting the medical staff to such terrains is almost impossible, and the people, who can reach them, often lack the medical expertise.
Jet Suits Can Further the Reach of Medical Flights
Imagine donning a jet suit to bounce out of medical flights, reaching the injured on time, and flying back again into the air ambulance. That can do wonders, right? While it might seem like a scene from a James Bond movie, it may soon become a reality. In fact, a British company is currently working towards exactly this. The company that is behind this brilliant effort is Gravity Industries. The organization recently released a video where they simulated a rescue mission in a jet suit.
About the Simulation
The simulation published by the company shows a paramedic pilot in a jet suit, traversing tough terrains to rescue an injured 10-year-old girl. The entire effort takes just about 90 seconds, whereas the same rescue on foot would take about an hour and a half. The suit makes way for travel at an astounding 51 km per hour and can move horizontally as well as vertically. If this is finally good enough for use in real-life situations, it can augment the efforts of medical flights to a huge extent. For now, we will just have to wait and watch, hoping that it becomes a reality soon.
Air ambulance industry and drones – the partnership sounds like a perfect plot for another part of the ‘Back to the Future’ series, doesn’t it? Well, not anymore. The possibility seems more like a reality with several firms working towards this goal today. We are already used to seeing drones among hobbyists, photographers, and even scientists. Then there are what seems like hypothetical implementations such as flying taxis and courier services. You will be surprised to know that companies such as Amazon and Uber are pursuing these possibilities with all seriousness and have invested quite a bit in them.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Already Using Drones
Emergency equipment like defibrillators is already being used by the air ambulance industry today, although the prevalence is not widely felt. Then there are larger drones, popular as autonomous aerial vehicles that are making news waves every now and then. Researchers are even working on surveillance drones for emergencies in remote areas. The ability of drones to reach areas where conventional helicopters cannot reach is their advantage. Besides, while a few thousand dollars might be at stake in risky situations, no lives are at risk with drones.
It is a Dicey Road to Tread
The problem lies in people not realizing the true potential of drones. More often, we find overenthusiastic hobbyists flying drones too close to flights. This is a concern that even the air ambulance industry has raised quite often. The prevalence of such use attracts the attention of lawmakers and rightly so, but they are also a hurdle.
It is quite possible that air ambulance industry operators will have to procure separate licenses when it comes to drones, once their use gains mainstream credibility. However, it might be a necessity considering that skies need to be safer for everyone. All said and done, the air ambulance industry is all set for a new evolution in the near future.
Vertical takeoff and landing is perhaps the most important feature for any air ambulance that operates in urban areas. The reason for this are several and range from the lack of landing space to heavy traffic. Air ambulance helicopters do a pretty good job at this; however, they are not always suited for the job due to the huge rotors. What one needs is a compact air ambulance that is capable of vertical takeoff and landing while being able to accommodate enough patients, medical staff as well as medical equipment. In a recent development, this seems like a reality.
A US Company Partners with an Israeli Aeronautical Company
A New York-based company called Hatzolah Air has got into an agreement with Urban Aeronautics, which is an Israeli company. According to reports, the aeronautical company is in possession of a former military prototype, now approved for civilian use. The uniqueness of this design lies in its internal rotors. The company, it is reported, has already completed over 300 flights successfully thus far. The New York-based company will call its air ambulance CityHawk once it is completed according to its spokesperson. It would be capable of landing right in the midst of busy traffic without too much disruption and be able to evacuate patients effortlessly.
The Air Ambulance Vehicle will be Quite Sizeable
The air ambulance will be capable of carrying two emergency medical service personnel, a pilot, a patient, a companion for the patient, and all the necessary medical equipment. Considering that the vehicle would be much smaller than the traditional helicopters, this is quite an impressive feat. It is estimated that the current market for this type of air ambulance would be about 800, which is pretty good. The development of the air ambulance and procurement of certification from the FAA is expected to take anywhere between 3 to 5 years.
Imagine taking off in an air ambulance but without a pilot! Seems like a scene from a science fiction movie, right? Well, not anymore. The technology is already a reality, and now, the efforts are on to make it more widely available. The International Civil Aviation Organization has set out on an ambitious project that will soon see our skies fill with autonomous air ambulance vehicles. The fact that these will be “electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles” makes the entire prospect even more exciting. In this context, it must be noted that it will be cheaper and more eco-friendly than its yesteryear counterparts.
EHang Air Ambulance is Leading the Way
EHang is a Nasdaq-listed company that has pioneered the autonomous air ambulance vehicle industry. The company finds it origin in China where it has already been deployed during the COVID-19 crisis. Imagine being able to control the air ambulance from the ground. There would not be a need to have the entire crew on board, thus minimizing the risk of contracting the infection. Plus, these compact air ambulance vehicles can easily land and take off without the need for a lot of space. EHang will be the guiding force of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s project and is expected to share its technical and operational expertise in the arena.
EHang has found great success in its passenger grade aircraft that it calls the EHang 216. It is a two-seater that is ideal for transporting patients and medical supplies to reasonably short distances. It must be noted that international repatriations will still be something that the traditional air ambulance vehicles will have to undertake. It is noteworthy that most air ambulance evacuations are domestic and involve motor vehicle accidents and medical emergencies due to underlying chronic diseases. It would not be an overstatement to say that autonomous air ambulances are all set to change we handle medical emergencies in the days to come.