A Europe-wide proposed regulation, combined with a lack of response from national authorities, will have a serious impact on the financial viability of helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) in France, according to Union Française de l'Hélicoptère (UFH). The lobbying association warns that the likely requirement for a second flight crewmember would create a costly burden and do nothing to benefit the missions French HEMS operators are allowed to perform.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is in the process of defining the role of the second crewmember, which it sees as necessary for operations such as search-and-rescue and hoisting. However, in France, the state provides these services through its emergency preparedness organization, police and naval forces. UFH general manager Thierry Couderc told AIN that the EASA’s one-size-fits-all approach is unsuited to French HEMS operators, which are most often engaged in urgent transfers between hospitals. Occasionally a rotorcraft may have to land on the road to move a wounded person, but in that event the police will have already secured the landing area, making the operation simpler than search-and-rescue. “We experimented with a second flight crewmember and found nothing for him to do,” Couderc said.
In addition to incurring the added expense of employing a second crewmember, the operator would need to buy a bigger helicopter to provide the same range and payload, Couderc noted, resulting in higher hourly costs.
“But the Ministry of Health does not want to spend more money [on HEMS],” Couderc warned. The ministry did not return AIN’s phone calls. The UFH understands the government may simply replace helicopters with road vehicles and notes that this would contradict the stated goal of putting all French citizens within 30 minutes of a fully equipped hospital.
According to a source close to French civil aviation authorities, one possible solution might be to define helicopter EMS as a “special” commercial air transport operation. However, this could be only a temporary measure.