It is remarkable to know that airambulance services or Helicopter Emergency Medical Services ferry over 400,000 people safely each year in the US. Most of these rescues are usually conducted in tough weather conditions and poor visibility. Landing is another concern as pilots have to land the airambulance in unfamiliar terrains.
The fact remains that airambulance services today are increasingly turning commercial and safety is sometimes put on the backburner. The FAA has been extremely active in regulating the airambulance market in recent times, laying down new rules for safety. In this realm, we look at certain facts. However, a good chopper can cut the risks to a huge extent. Here, we discuss a few of those briefly.
The Various Airambulance Choppers and their Capabilities
There are several airambulance helicopters that are used in emergency situations these days. As a person who might potentially be in need of these at some point, you must know a little about the popular helicopters out there.
Bell 206: The cost varies from $800 thousand to $3 million. It is a single engine airambulance that can host only one pilot. It has only limited weather capability. It also has limits when it comes to carrying load such as fuel and medical equipment.
Eurocopter EC135: The cost varies from $4 million to $6 million. It sports a twin engine and can host 2 pilots simultaneously. It has excellent weather capability and can run on autopilot. It can fly for longer distances. This airambulance can carry equipments such as balloon pumps and ventilators.
Sikorsky S76: The cost of this chopper varies between $7 and $12 million. It is a twin engine helicopter that can host two pilots at a time. It has instrument weather capability and can also run on autopilot. It has specialty transport capabilities such as onboard pediatric care. This airambulance has the highest distance range.
Considering the fact that helicopter airambulance operations accounted for the second highest commercial accidents in 2014 as reported by FAA, it becomes vital that you know a bit about these helicopters.
Speak of flights and the first thing that comes to mind is the price tag; however, one needs to look at medical flights from a totally different perspective. While price can be a criterion, it can never be the only one. Here are certain factors that you must be taking into consideration to ensure the wellness of your loved ones while choosing medical flights.
The type of medical flights being used
Not all medical flights have the capability of running in tough weather conditions. Plus, the air ambulance needs to be cabin pressurized for patient safety. There are aircrafts that are often used part-time as chartered planes; you are advised to steer away from such medical flights as the chances of them being fully equipped medical emergencies is questionable.
Medical flights and safety compliance
Look for the accreditations. A company that complies with the rules laid down by the Federal Aviation Administration is the best one to choose. Violation of these norms is usually recorded and made public so that people have the choice to avoid them.
Medical flights with qualified crew
This one might come as a shock to you but providers of medical flights are not mandated by the government to maintain standards when it comes to qualified staff (apart from the pilot). The doctors and emergency medical personnel might not have great credentials. Medical flights don’t come cheap and you deserve the best. Ensure that you are knowledgeable about the credentials and experience of the crew members.
Experience of the pilot
Medical flights take to skies in tough weather conditions some times. It is essential that an experienced pilot is in control of the aircraft. FAA mandates that the pilot has at least 1500 flying hours under the belt. Some providers have their own standards that are better than the FAA standards.
The medical equipments onboard
Medical flights are often required to take care of midair emergency situations. To accomplish this, they need to have adequate equipments like oxygen, heart monitors, etc.
The communication and coordination
Medical flights need to be in constant touch with the receiving hospital so that all necessary arrangements are made beforehand. Also, the medical flights need to have good communication systems that constantly keep the pilot abreast of weather conditions in the destination. Having adequate communication infrastructure saves crucial minutes when time is of essence.
Of course, people must ensure that their insurance policies cover medical flights so that they are not burdened by huge costs during emergencies that warrant air ambulances.
The Federal Aviation Administration had laid down its groundbreaking safety rules for choppers in February of 2014, popularly known as the HAA (helicopter air ambulance) rule. It mandated that the choppers involved in emergency transport of the patient would have to meet requirements like:
- Inclusion of certain specific safety instruments
- Improved training and testing
- Establishment of control systems for air ambulance transport vehicles
These were only a few requirements that were laid down. Although the initial deadline to meet these requirements was April 22 of last year, it was then extended by a year owing to the difficulties of the air ambulance transport companies to comply with them at such short notice. Most air ambulance transport companies have already complied with the first set of rules, although there is some anxiety in the air ambulance transport industry as the deadline nears.
The Air Ambulance Transport Sector will have to Meet More Deadlines
Although the air ambulance transport companies will have to comply with several of the rules laid down this year, there are some for which the sector still has time. Here’s a breakdown.
Compliance by April 2016: Setting up of operations control center.
Compliance by April 2017:
- Installation of radio altimeters
- Incorporation of warning systems and terrain indicators for choppers
- Meeting qualification criteria for PIC instruments
Compliance by April 2018: Complying with mandated systems to monitor flight data.
Guidance is awaited by the Air Ambulance Transport Industry
The sources in the air ambulance transport industry revealed that it is not possible to comply with certain mandates unless there are clear guidelines by the FAA. Compliance with most of the rules will cost the air ambulance transport operators huge dollars, so obviously, they want to get it right and keep the expenses to a minimum.
For the pilots, crew and the people travelling in air ambulance transport vehicles, the rules will bring in more safety and efficiency. In general, the rules have been well accepted by the air ambulance transport industry so far.
Wanting to help the needy by being part of air ambulance transport is no doubt a noble intent. However, the profession is fraught with several dangers and is counted among the most dangerous professions in the world. People who aspire to join air ambulance transport sector must give due consideration to certain aspects of the sector. Apart from the fact that air ambulance transport services cater to people in war torn areas, natural disasters and global epidemics such as the recent Ebola threat, there are other factors too that must be considered. Here, we highlight a few of those.
Air Ambulance Transport Crews are More at Risk than Patients
One simple reason is the fact that more than one crew member accompanies a patient usually. The second reason could be that the crew usually has to make more flights, one to pick the patient, one to drop and another trip to return to the air base. All this while the crew, with the inadequate safety standards, is exposed to more danger.
There is also a sense of urgency that surrounds most air ambulance transport trips. For instance, if a patient has had a heart attack, the first priority is always to transport the patient to the nearest medical facility within the first hour.
Some air ambulance transport industry experts have also raised concerns about the competition that exists between air ambulance transport companies to make the maximum number of flights. Such a “race” naturally puts the air ambulance transport safety in the backseat.
Stricter Rules for Air Ambulance Transport in the US are on the Way
The need of the hour, therefore, is stricter regulations. American air ambulance transport sector can take a leaf out of the Canada which has stricter regulations. For instance, it is mandated that at least two pilots must be present in every air ambulance trip. That said, the FAA has now proposed new safety rules, which will be implemented by 2015. The regulations have come into place after many postponements and delays. On the positive side, however, we hope that the new rules make air ambulance transport safer for the crews.