Images: Armée de l’air, Sebastien Bozon – AFP, Frederick Florin – AFP, SAMU 21 - CHU Dijon Bourgogne
As COVID-19 continues its spread around the globe, stressing healthcare systems and disrupting daily life and business operations, many of Airbus’ helicopter customers have found themselves on the front lines of their countries’ efforts to combat the virus, helping hospitals and governments provide air medical transport and other critical services.
Encompassing emergency medical services (EMS), para-public and military fleets, these customers need Airbus Helicopters now more than ever to keep business running so that they can continue to perform their life-saving missions. Airbus Helicopters has been doing everything it can to ensure that the availability rate of the different French SAMU aircraft, the helicopter emergency medical services who have been working tirelessly in the recent weeks, stays at almost 100 percent.
Adapting helicopter cabins to protect crews
Airbus Helicopters has mobilized its teams to inform operators of the new and existing solutions for separating the cockpit from the cabin.
“Many EMS operators and militaries are transporting COVID-19 patients while lacking the means to isolate the cockpit from the cabin to protect the crew,” says Stefan Bestle, EMS marketing manager at Airbus Helicopters. “But a solution exists for certain aircraft in the form of cabin cockpit isolation, which provides a barrier between the infected or possibly infected patients and the flight crews, thereby increasing the level of protection.”
The company has already identified and communicated options available in local markets for the H135/H145 as well as the AS332/H225 fleet. Additional solutions for AS365/H155/H175 are under final approval and will be included in the next days. Solutions for the intermediate single engine helicopters are currently under exploration. It has also communicated technical information concerning the ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems on Airbus helicopters. (Information Notice 3492-I-25 accessible via AirbusWorld or T.I.P.I.)
In addition, Airbus Helicopters has issued guidance about how to properly clean and disinfect helicopters, workspaces and tools that have been contaminated by COVID-19, including processes to be followed and disinfection material to be used. (Information Notice 3476-I-12 accessible via AirbusWorld or T.I.P.I.)
And on the newly launched online Marketplace, part of the AirbusWorld collaborative customer portal, customers in Europe and the United States can now purchase aircraft disinfectant solutions from a number of suppliers.
Training from the comfort of home
Physical distancing measures have put a temporary freeze on traditional classroom training courses, troubling customers with urgent training needs. Airbus Helicopters is addressing this gap by recommending distance learning for theoretical training courses. Both pilot and technician trainings can now be performed via online courses, as long as practical tasks are not concerned.
“These remote courses replace classroom trainings and are adapted to a virtual environment with specific software, a different pedagogical approach, and dedicated instructor training,” said Sabrina Barbera, Head of Training at Airbus Helicopters.
Keeping military and governmental helicopter operators in the air
Military and para-public operators worldwide have found themselves on the front lines, often transporting critical patients to hospitals.
To support NH90 operators worldwide, such as the French and Spanish armies, Italian Navy, but also the Australian Ministry of Defence, and the Royal Air Force of Oman, the NH90 Program support office has mobilized, together with NHI and its partner companies Leonardo and Fokker, to ensure the delivery of spare parts, faster turnaround times for repairs, the development and deployment of new solutions such cabin isolation or disinfection among other measures, to ensure the customers can perform their life-saving missions as planned.
And to supplement Airbus Helicopters staff already working on customer bases like in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and Finland, the company is dispatching teams to perform aircraft and/or component repairs at customer premises in order to prevent AOGs and increase reactivity and responsiveness. In these challenging times, it is of utmost importance that the customer receive the right level of support and immediate answers to their technical concerns all around the world.
Medical staff push a Covid-19 patient on a stretcher towards the 1st Combat Helicopter Regiment's (RHC) NH90 in Strasbourg, on March 30, 2020. Photo credit: Frederick Florin – AFP
Extra support for the Military Support Centre in France
The team at the Military Support Centre in France (MSCF) has been supporting the French armed forces and the French Ministry of Interior by providing the means to fulfill their critical missions, ranging from EMS and public services to logistics flights.
The MSCF was one of the first areas to restart production activities after a four-day pause mid-March that allowed Airbus Helicopters to implement the most stringent health and safety measures to protect the employees. The teams at MSCF even created their own protection visors, an initiative that has since been implemented in other production zones at the Marignane site.
“The French armed forces have been on the front line from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, performing critical missions such as transporting COVID-19 patients to other hospitals for treatment. Helicopters have played an essential role in these missions, and we, at the Military Support Centre in France, are here to support them,” said Olivier Tillier, Head of the Military Support Centre in France. “This includes responding to urgent demands to deliver spare parts, and finishing up scheduled maintenance work to deliver helicopters faster. Our slogan is “Supporting those who protect us” and this rings so true in today’s situation.”
Of note, the MSCF has been assisting the French armed forces with “Operation Résilience” with tasks ranging from dispatching equipment and supplies to disinfect their helicopters, extending scheduled maintenance tasks, adapting spare parts deliveries, maintaining personnel at the bases, and finalizing maintenance or retrofit work to enable Cougars, EC145s, Caracals, Pumas, and NH90s to be put back into flight or to continue flying.
They have also investigated technical solutions for the installation of electrical converters to power ventilators during the evacuation of COVID-19 patients. Another notable example was providing the necessary equipment kit in record time for mooring the Sécurité Civile’s EC145 on the Dixmude, a French helicopter carrier. The team also provided spare parts that will be needed for operations once the Dixmude reaches its destination in the Antilles.
On April 1, 2020, two Caracals from BA 120 in Cazaux were used to transport Covid-19 patients from Ile-de-France as part of Opération Résilience. Photo credit: Armee de l'air