In late September, the light twin-engine helicopter reached a major milestone: the company’s 1,400th H135 was delivered to the French operator Mont Blanc, adding to a fleet of more than 20 H135 and H145 helicopters in service with the operator to provide Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) in France. The milestone capped off an over-20-year history for the programme and cements the H135 as a leader in the HEMS industry, currently holding 25% of the global market share for HEMS and boasting over 650 units in service.
Lives in the balance
Transferring patients from one care centre to another is a complex operation even in the best of times. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to transfer critical care patients has become a crucial ability that helps swing the balance in what often are life and death situations, freeing up resources for health care systems under stress.
“As the benchmark for HEMS helicopters, the H135 is the safest, most reliable and most economic platform – arriving at the scene on time…every time,” explained Martin Schneider, Airbus Helicopters’ Head of the H135 programme. “There are more than 650 H135s in emergency medical service duties, operated by thousands of pilots and medics who protect and save lives each day.”
As the benchmark for HEMS helicopters, the H135 is the safest, most reliable and most economic platform – arriving at the scene on time…every time.
- Martin Schneider, Airbus Helicopters’ Head of the H135 programme
The best fit for HEMS
Since first entering into service in 1996, the H135 family of helicopters has gone through regular improvements in performance and capabilities. In order to respond to the unique needs for HEMS operators, the programme has taken an active role by conducting conferences, interviews, questionnaires, and surveys, as well as using Reliability Data Group (RDG) customer input and reliability figures.
As operators seek to improve on-board care, adding more specialised medical equipment, which translates to increased load, the H135 team went to work. The results? The latest H135 version has an increased maximum take-off weight of 90 kg and a useful load increase of up to 225 kg, allowing HEMS operators to explore new possibilities for the care provided during transit. Other improvements have focused on the airframe, engine, and cockpit; mission equipment; maintenance and reliability, to name a few.
Focus on safety and performance in critical missions
From the operational point of view, Airbus’ introduction of the Helionix avionics suite – which was exclusively designed for helicopters, and includes a 4-axis autopilot – reduces pilot workload, increases situational awareness and enhances overall flight safety. Helionix also is night-vision ready, further augmenting mission capabilities and safety when the H135 is operated in darkness or in low visibility conditions.
As an environmentally-friendly rotorcraft, the H135 is the most efficient in terms of CO2 emissions, as well as the quietest in its category of helicopters.
More than five decades of HEMS expertise
Benefitting from over five decades of HEMS experience, Airbus provides much more than just highly capable rotorcraft. Working with established partners, it defines best-fit equipment and systems solutions that are tailored to customers’ specific requirements, as well as supporting operators in establishing their business models.
Additionally, Airbus offers services and solutions based on its extensive experience in HEMS. They range from assessing a country’s specific needs, conducting workshops, organising medical and operational training programmes, all the way to providing in-country on-the-ground support.
The Airbus Foundation also plays a role by sponsoring dedicated training programmes with HEMS doctors from the French Academy of Medicine Foundation (FAM). In 2019, the Airbus Foundation and FAM trained nearly 215 doctors and rescue personnel in India, China and Indonesia. Overall more than 1,100 professionals from around the world have benefited from this initiative.
Versatile for a wide range of missions
Overall, H135s are operated for a wide range of missions by more than 290 customers in 65 countries. In addition to HEMS, this helicopter family is deployed for law enforcement, private and business aviation, offshore windfarm management, and military flight training.