The German Federal Police’s (Bundespolizei’s) helicopter group is pursuing an air operator’s certificate (AOC) for the emergency medical services (EMS) part of its operations.
The group applied five years ago in the wider commercial air transport category and the effort has proved challenging and time consuming. A lot of time is spent on documentation, while pilots will have to partly change the way they fly. An improvement is expected in procedure management.
The idea was born when the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) asked the Bundespolizei to operate its EMS rotorcraft under EASA rules. The argument was the Bundespolizei gets paid for the service (by insurance schemes), even though it does not make profit. The same pilots fly police and EMS helicopters.
The other major helicopter EMS operators in Germany include automobile club ADAC and not-for-profit organization DRF Luftrettung.
“So we thought, if other organizations follow stringent rules to prove their high safety standards, why should we be different? Why could we not do the same?” said Andreas Maurer, a pilot in charge of crew resource management training and leading the process of obtaining the AOC. A patient has a right to expect the same standard, he added.
The EMS helicopters the Bundespolizei flies are owned by the federal office of civil protection and disaster assistance (BBK). The BBK allows the police to use the aircraft – they have a distinctive orange livery — as long as BBK does not need them.
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The Bundespolizei sees a win-win situation in having its 120 or so pilots flying a combined 4,000 hours per year in helicopter EMS (HEMS) operations. “They gather more experience,” said Maurer. Meanwhile, the public benefits from a service the hardware and the pilots have already been paid for.
But separating EMS from police operations to gain an AOC for the former is a convoluted process for the Bundespolizei.
The existing flight operations manual has to be modified. The status of non-pilot flight crewmembers (called technical crewmembers-HEMS), who also work as paramedics and come from fireman teams and the Red Cross, is a problem. “How do we regulate their flight time limitation?” asked Maurer. The manual has to be created for a closed system where no exterior organization can interfere, he explained.
In training, EASA rules call for using a full flight simulator. “Where do we find one for our 120 pilots?” said Maurer. The Bundespolizei has been happy with a less sophisticated EC135 flight training device.
In operations, a pilot flying under the pursued AOC will still be allowed to land anywhere. However, after landing on a highway on an accident site, pilots will be allowed to takeoff on their own – without a second crewmember – only under stringent conditions. This used to be easier and all the more useful as the common practice is to leave the technical crewmember-HEMS with the patient. A helicopter staying on the ground means greater inconvenience for the drivers caught in the traffic jam.
A significant benefit is hoped to be found in the way procedures are established. “We have to describe our standards thoroughly,” said Maurer. Altering a method will be done in a logical, transparent way. “It will be easier to explain a change to our pilots.”