Air Methods dedication to saving lives leads to domination in EMS and SAR
Interest in trying new equipment has brought a wide variety of helicopters, some TPs and avionics innovations to company fleet.
Air Methods Bell 407s, operating in the Life Saver program in Birmingham AL, fly a tight formation over a nearby lake resort area.
Archie Gray describes partnerships with Air Methods' main suppliers, the OEMs and the engine manufacturers. "We work closely with our vendors to streamline supply lines and increase turnaround on component repairs and overhauls," he says. "There are always new opportunities to gain cost advantages in our end of the business."
Gray describes how the company's extensive engine trend monitoring has become an effective tool to reduce unscheduled downtime and repair costs. "As soon as we see a noticeable loss of power on an engine's trend chart, we send a replacement to the field and have it changed," he says. "That way we avoid an AOG situation, with an aircraft out of service and the costs of fast shipment and technician overtime.
And the repair to bring the engine back up to specification is far less expensive because we caught the problem before it became destructive."
A PC12 is ready for an early morning mission from an Arizona medical base.
Air Methods' maintenance headquarters is housed in a 2-block-long building containing various repair and overhaul shops. The level of organization and precision rivals that of many aircraft manufacturers.
Here, fleet aircraft are taken through all major inspections, including the most extensive events, in which the entire airframe and all of its major components are taken down, inspected and reassembled.
The key to the future, according to Allen, is to make patient transport by air as safe as other forms of commercial air transport. "We are investing heavily in safety and training so that we can achieve that goal for our patients and their families," he says.
One example is that by this fall, Air Methods' fleet and crews will be 100% night vision goggle (NVG) trained and equipped. And HTAWS is standard in every helicopter in the fleet.
The company's safety experts are looking back over the past 5 years at every EMS helicopter accident in order to identify common causal factors. The results of that study will be shared with the entire air medical community. And the company is adopting many of the new technologies that have improved safety statistics in the fixed-wing world so dramatically.
A technician inspects the Turbomeca powerplant on an EC130.
FAA has recently informed Air Methods that the company has been successful in achieving the highest level of safety management system (SMS)—Level 4, or the continuous improvement stage.
Only 8 commercial air carriers have attained Level 4, and Air Methods is the only helicopter operator among them.
"We're determined to improve our safety record so that all of our partners and stakeholders continue to recognize us as the industry leader and the trend setter," says Allen.
Air Methods sees training as the outlet through which a safe flight operations culture is nourished. Its new training center, located a few minutes' drive from corporate headquarters at APA (Centennial, Denver CO), takes up almost an entire floor of an office building.
Several large classrooms house new employee indoctrination and pilot and medical crew initial and recurrent training. The classrooms use the latest in audiovisual technologies.
Dir of Clinical Education Allan Wolfe demonstrates hands-on use of a pediatric patient simulator.
Maintenance classrooms incorporate individual computer stations for access to the procedures and manuals that are essential to effective MRO tasks.
Maintenance technicians can advance their skills on any of the airframes or powerplants in the Air Methods fleet.
Every pilot's initial training, no matter which type of helicopter he or she will fly, includes several hours of stick time in the company's EC135 advanced aviation training device (AATD)—a PC-based trainer.
The pilot is taken through an inadvertent-IMC training exercise. Its goal is to give the pilot the survival skills needed in case of accidental loss of visual ground contact.
Aviation Training Supervisor Mike Giovannini says, "The statistics on inadvertent IMC encounters tell us that our pilots need the basic instrument skills to maintain control until they either regain visual flight conditions or stabilize the situation and land.
The feedback from our pilots has been very encouraging. We're on the right path to reducing I-IMC accidents."
"We believe that we're leading the industry in safety management and training," says Allen. "We're determined to bring our helicopter operations culture into the 21st century and deliver the safest, most effective patient care that modern technology can provide."
Woody McClendon has written for Pro Pilot for 20 years. He flies jets and helicopters and is currently a sales manager for FlightSafety Intl.