India’s yet-to-take off helicopter emergency medical services program (HEMS) received a boost earlier this year with a firm contract for seven Eurocopter EC135s by Bangalore-based Aviators Ltd. signed in the presence of visiting French president François Hollande.
Deliveries are to start by the end of 2013 and operations are to be launched by the first quarter of 2014, Arun Sharma, managing director of Aviators, told AIN. The company, which is holding “discussions with financial institutions and potential partners,” will make an announcement soon, he added.
Unlike current operators that convert their helicopters to EMS on an as-needed basis, Sharma said, “Aviators’ HEMS [aircraft] will not be used for executive charter operations. It will be manned by qualified paramedics, part of the crew.” Equipped with a Fenestron shrouded tail-rotor and bearingless main rotor, the EC135’s large unobstructed cabin, oversized sliding side doors and rear clamshell doors enable rapid loading/unloading of patients and equipment–even with the rotors turning–which facilitates operations during time-critical emergency medical missions, said Norbert Ducrot, Eurocopter senior vice president for the Asia Pacific region.
India has the potential to employ 50 HEMS in the next few years. However, issues relating to funding of the operation remain. Unlike in many countries, costs for EMS are not borne by the state, and insurance companies in India do not have policies for aerial evacuation. “If there is no incentive, as in Norway, for instance, who will fund the operation?” asked Ravi Sahi, former joint director general civil aviation and currently consultant to the ministry of civil aviation. He added that, abroad, traffic on roads is often blocked to allow EMS helicopters to land, but this hasn’t been experimented with in India yet. Discussions with a large government hospital in Delhi to set up a helipad have become embroiled in the logistics of management and investment.
A draft general-aviation policy, which has yet to be cleared by the ministry of civil aviation, includes the need for HEMS. It talks of creating helicopter routes, the involvement of the private sector in developing heliports/helipads and a review of air traffic control related to standardized route operating procedures.
Challenges remain that face the first participant in any endeavor, Sharma said, “there is always a risk to be the first person to start any concept. We have to take on the task of creating [the service] and educating [regulators and the public about] it. However, I feel that India has been waiting for this service to be provided in a professional manner…and we will now provide this.”