n late spring of 1969, a young boy named Björn Steiger spends the day at the local swimming pool in his hometown of Winnenden, Germany. On his way home that afternoon, he is struck by a car. The local police and Red Cross are immediately contacted, but it takes almost a full hour before the ambulance arrives on the scene. Björn Steiger dies on the way to the hospital.
This story and many others were the reality of what emergency medical services looked like for much of the 20th century. Whether suffering an injury at the top of a mountain or in the middle of a highway, a nascent emergency medical response system meant that many victims did not receive the care they needed fast enough.
Today, Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) systems have matured in many countries around the world. The biggest advantage is that helicopters can reach a location three-to-five-times faster than a ground vehicle and sometimes is the only way to access inhospitable terrain. Patients receive medical treatment earlier and the chance of survival in critical cases goes up significantly. Airbus products were instrumental in the development of the HEMS systems working today.
The global fleet of Alouette III helicopters has accumulated more than seven million flight hours overall, with many of these rotorcraft still in operational service today.
An array of innovations are underway to improve the safety of HEMS missions. From synthetic vision systems to satellite communications and self-learning AI algorithms, these technologies all aim to ease pilot workload and improve operational safety. Smaller Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) platforms are being investigated for their use as “doctor shuttles” and could play a complementary role in the future of HEMS operations.
The technologies and innovations for HEMS are limitless and exciting in what they can achieve. Airbus will continue to pioneer the way forward, dedicated to reaching new heights for what is possible in emergency medical services.