In the field with the Tyrol Air Ambulance

Each year, the profes­sionals of Tyrol Air Ambulance service fly more than 3,000 pa­tients back home using up to six specially equipped air­craft—a logistical, aero­nautical and tech­nical feat that draws on 40 years of experience.

11.2016 | Text: Dr. Philipp Bruhns

Dr. Philipp Bruhns has been working in cor­porate com­mu­ni­ca­tions for over 15 years, and has been self-employed since 2008. Based in Denmark, Bruhns has a doctoral degree in psycho­linguistics and as an author specializes in main­tenance topics and health and social issues.

In the winter, when ambulances start queuing up again on the runway of the Kranebitten air­port in Innsbruck, it doesn’t mean that a dis­aster has oc­curred. Instead, it is simply the beginning of boarding for one of aviation’s most unusual scheduled ser­vices, the “plaster bomber.” Operated by Tyrol Air Ambulance (TAA) several times a week, the service brings injured skiers back home from the Alps quickly, comfort­ably and with all the medical care they need. Most stops are in the Benelux region, but Scandinavia is also a regular des­ti­na­tion. Year round, the trans­ports also make several stops around the Medi­terranean to pick up beach vaca­tioners and take them back to northern and central Europe.

In its standard passen­ger version, as used by TAA parent company Welcome Air, the Dornier 328 turboprop air­craft seats 31 passen­gers. When used as an air ambu­lance, its ca­pac­ity depends on how much space the pa­tients on a par­ticu­lar trip require. The seating is indi­vid­ually con­fig­ured by the main­tenance team prior to each flight, and includes both stretcher berths and normal air­craft seats with leg rests. Composition of the crew and the medical facilities on board also vary ac­cord­ing to the indi­vidual require­ment. If required, the Dornier can even be used as a flying intensive care unit with six beds.

The success of the TAA trans­ports lies in their super­lative medical stand­ards and a great deal of planning expertise, explains TAA CEO Manfred Helldoppler: “We offer the insur­ance companies who most often bear the transport costs a unique and afford­able product. This regularly puts us at the fore­front of the competition even in ratings within the sector.”

Tyrol Air AmbulanceWithin a few hours, the cabins of TAA aircraft can be con­verted into flying intensive care units. The fleet includes a Golfstream 100, a Dornier Do328 with turboprop engines and a Cessna Citation Bravo with jet engines by Pratt & Whitney Canada. The air­craft are frequently used in the Alps, from where vaca­tioners who have had acci­dents are flown to their northern European home countries.

Ready for takeoff within two hours

What’s more, Tyrol Air Ambulance’s service extends well beyond the “plaster bomber.” Ever since its foundation in 1976, it has also offered ambu­lance flights using a growing fleet of specially modified business jets. In order to trans­port one or two pa­ti­ents, often when inten­sive medical care is involved or a pickup far from the big tourist desti­nations, TAA deploys three Gulfstream 100 air­craft and a Cessna Citation Bravo. Patients and their rela­tives can reach the Medical Assistance team 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. First, the team get a com­pre­hen­sive medical picture, coordi­nating the exchange of infor­mation between caregivers on location, relatives and the insurer’s medical service. If trans­por­ta­tion home gets the go-ahead, the flight is ready for take­off within two hours. In that time, the TAA specialists on the ground must scramble the jet, crew and medical team, obtain all the neces­sary diplomatic and landing clear­ances and wrap up all the asso­ciated ground operations. In the case of un­usual­ly long journeys, this can occa­sion­ally take slightly longer due to the approvals involved.

Pros on board Tyrol Air Ambulance crews include not only pilots and flight ­attendants, but also medical professionals.

And yet, in spite of all the careful prepa­ration by experi­enced medics and dispatchers, none of these flights can be said to be routine given the intensive care needs of se­vere­ly injured patients. It can well happen that a patient’s condition deterio­rates before the flight to the extent that they first have to be sta­bi­lized where they are. Only experi­enced emergency special­ists familiar with the specific symptoms are allowed on board as doctors since, once the air­craft is in the air, they must take full respon­sibility for making the right decision. There are also particular chal­lenges for the crew in the cockpit, for instance when the patient is suspected of having a severe tracheal injury and must be flown at low altitude.

“For us, no two missions are the same, even when it’s meant to be a routine transport,” says CEO Helldoppler as he describes the particular chal­lenges faced by his airline. “Ensuring that everything runs smoothly requires a lot of experience and great flex­ibil­ity from the whole team—both on the ground and in the air.” He says that the work is un­usual­ly varied and ful­fill­ing, which is why “so many of our roughly 100 full-time employees and the experi­enced medical profes­sionals in our 70-strong pool of doctors and nurses have been with us for such a long time.”

Inside MTU Help for the helpers

Innsbruck’s Tyrol Air Ambulance is a customer of the Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) Customer Service Centre Europe (CSC), a joint venture between MTU Maintenance Berlin-Brandenburg and P&WC targeting all aftermarket services in the Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. It is head­quartered at Ludwigsfelde. A variety of engine models overseen by the CSC, including PW530A engines of TAA’s Cessna Citation Bravo, is main­tained there. “Individually tailored service packages are one of the CSC’s great strengths,” says its General Manager Carsten Behrens. “As a market leader in the region for the care of Pratt & Whitney Canada engines—the appli­cations of which range from heli­copters to turboprops and jets—we have worked with a great many operators in the air ambu­lance and air rescue sector for many years, and have thus come to know the chal­lenges of their demanding missions.”

Pratt & Whitney Canada Customer Service Centre offers a comprehensive portfolio


Pratt & Whitney Canada Customer Service Centre offers a comprehensive portfolio

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Almost 100 percent availability

Doing an important job in the wings is the tech­nol­ogy and main­tenance team, whose task goes beyond turning busi­ness jets and regional air­craft into flying intensive care units. Main­tenance also brings with it its own demands, as TAA Director Technical Operations, Johan Schot, explains. “At first glance it no doubt seems strange that an op­era­tor of our size under­takes nearly all of the main­tenance work on the air­craft itself. However, we’re not a normal air­line. The on-board equip­ment alone sets our air­craft apart from tradi­tional regional and business air­craft.” The team works on short notice and has to guar­an­tee almost 100 percent avail­abil­ity of the whole fleet. “On top of that, our jets amass many times the flight hours that is normal for air­craft of this type.”

“Ensuring that everything runs smoothly requires a lot of experience and great flexibility from the whole team—both on the ground and in the air.“

Manfred Helldoppler, Tyrol Air Ambulance

There are, then, high demands when it comes to flex­ibil­ity and service capa­bility, and the same is ex­pected of engine repair and main­tenance. For 15 years now, TAA has entrusted the main­tenance of the Pratt & Whitney Canada engines of its Dornier 328 and Cessna Citation Bravo air­craft to the Customer Service Centre Europe (CSC). “By doing this, we gain access to an extremely extensive global OEM service net­work and lease engines at short notice, together with quickly deployable mobile repair teams—which is a lot like our own setup,” says Schot as he describes the advantages of the long-standing collaboration.

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