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Eurocopter Teams With French Authorities To Test New Medevac Route

Hospital Consolidation Means Even Greater Need For Safe Helicopter Ops

Eurocopter has teamed up with the hospital in Dreux, the French association of helicopter emergency medical services (AFHSH), and the French civil aviation authority (DGAC) to conduct a series of instrument flight tests that will, in the near future, allow patients to be transported by helicopter from one hospital to another even under poor weather conditions.

A reorganization of the French public health system now underway involves concentrating specialist medical services in a reduced number of hospitals. Eurocopter says this will inevitably augment the need for air ambulance services, which in turn depends on the development of a medical transport network capable of providing an even more efficient service. Without this, the principles of a universal health service for all citizens can no longer be upheld.

Until now, the helicopters operating on medical missions only flew under visual flight conditions, in other words they can only fly if the weather permits good visibility. This limits their ability to deal with emergency situations in which every second counts, for instance when a patient has to be transferred to a specialized ward in another hospital in the middle of the night. In such cases, helicopter transport is on average three times faster than the same journey by ambulance.

These are the first trials in Europe to test the use of helicopters operating in an instrument flight rules (IFR) configuration to perform medical transport flights – a major innovation. They demand that the Eurocopter EC145 should complete a flight entirely under GPS navigation, from takeoff to final approach, confirming the helicopter’s ability to follow a predefined flight route even in the event of unfavorable meteorological conditions.

Eurocopter has been working in close collaboration with the French association of helicopter emergency medical services (AFHSH) and the French civil aviation authority (DGAC) since 2007 to define the appropriate regulatory, technical and operational framework for IFR flights in a specifically medical context. The aim is to facilitate the task of transporting patients, increase the efficiency with which such transfers are performed, and further improve passenger safety.

The experimental trials were conducted this week between the hospitals of Nogent-le-Rotrou and Dreux in the Eure-et-Loir region, the latter being designated as the pilot center. If all goes well, it should be possible to set up a regular transport service on this route on a permanent basis towards the end of 2009.

The next stage after the trials will be to implement flights under real operating conditions. The experience gained during the test phase on the route between Dreux and Nogent-le-Rotrou will serve as a model for other similar services linking hospitals in other regions of France.

Eurocopter selected its EC145 for the tests since the manufacturer considers it to be the helicopter best suited to future emergency medical service (EMS) applications. The aircraft is already one of the best-selling models in the EMS market.



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