When European Air Ambulance (EAA) scooped ITIJ’s Air Ambulance Provider of the year award at the end of last year, it was a well-earned reward for a company that had a successful and exciting 2016. Christian Northwood spoke to director of sales and marketing Patrick Schomaker about how EAA operates.
Last year was always going to be special for EAA as it marked the company’s 10th year of operation. Though its parent company, Luxembourg Air Ambulance has been operating for 28 years, EAA was formed only in 2006. “Originally DRF Luftrettung and Luxembourg Air Ambulance were founding members and part of EAA,” Schomaker explains. “But DRF left in 2014 to focus on their own members and do not offer medical repatriations to thirdparty companies any more. Luxembourg Air Ambulance is now the only operator behind EAA.”
The year ended up being one of the company’s most successful and impressive ever, and one that saw it named as Air Ambulance Provider of the Year by AMR’s sister publication, the International Travel & Health Insurance Journal (ITIJ). Over the course of 2016, EAA completed moving into its new state-of-the-art base at Luxemburg Airport, meaning that all its staff can be under one roof. From there, the firm says it can operate ‘in all countries worldwide, except warzones’.
During 2015, for example, EAA flew 792 missions in 117 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. “We are
especially strong in the Mediterranean area, Africa, Middle East, Russia and CIS, and are developing Asia and North America,” adds Schomaker.
2016 also saw EAA replace one of its Learjet 35s with a new Learjet 45. This has been part of the service’s ongoing fleet renewal project. EAA currently has four Learjet 45s and one remaining Learjet 35, though the service plans to upgrade it to a Learjet 45 over the coming year. Using these vehicles, the service is able to complete a number of different repatriation services, ‘from intensive care patients, to double-stretcher, incubator, paediatric, obese patient, infectious disease’. The Learjet 45s improve on the Learjet 35s in several ways, including shorter take-off and landing capabilities, a larger and more flexible cabin and the ability to travel longer distances. “The upgrade brings many advantages to our operations, and most importantly to the service we can provide our clients and the patients in our care,” says Schomaker. “All of our aircraft are dedicated to medical flights and are in effect in-transit hospitals, offering a level of service and medical care that is simply not possible on commercial charter transfers for patients.” The flexible cabin interior allows EAA to run a more cost-effective service, says the firm, allowing the carrying of either two intensive care patients, or an incubator and a mother on a stretcher, or a single patient with their family in 2015, EAA flew 792 missions in 117 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe of up to four passengers. It also allows EAA to carry out its specialist services, which include an infectiousdisease isolation module, a new stretchersystem for overweight patients and a neonatal-paediatric unit.
Schomaker explains EAA’s plan for the future of its fleet: “We will not dramatically expand our fleet, but prefer to grow organically and maintain our high level of service; our focus is not to be the biggest, but to offer the best possible level of medical care in the air. We will continue to modernise our fleet and sell our last remaining LJ35 [in 2017] to invest in a LJ45.”
The infectious disease programme, created by the company’s in-house scientists, is unique to Europe, says EAA. Helped by EAA’s partnership with the UN and NATO for relief and rescue operations, the module has ‘a standard of MEDEVAC capability usually only seen in military operations’.
Looking forward to 2017, Schomaker asserts that this unit will develop further: “The infectious disease module was originally developed for Ebola, but we want to adapt it to other kinds of highly infectious diseases to be able to serve the international community in case of a new outbreak.”
The air ambulance provider currently employs 125 full-time staff and about 40 freelance physicians. Schomaker explains: “EAA missions are always crewed with a specialised medical team of one physician and one flight nurse other specialised medical crew can be called upon, depending on the patient’s medical requirements.” EAA staff must be qualified to a required level before they can work for the company. Flight nurses, for example, must have a ‘minimum of four years of experienceasa registered nurse workingin intensive care and/or anaesthesia and/or emergency room’ and a ‘continuous medical education’, while physicians must have ‘specialist status in anaesthesiology, internal medicine or general/trauma surgery or emergency medicine’ and ‘at least one year of full-time intensive care experience and practice in an ICU’ whilst also having ‘continuous medical education’.
The process EAA follows to treat patients balances the strengths of its staff with the needs of every individual case. Schomaker details how a patient transport is handled and organised: “The logistics of an international air ambulance flight are based on the needs of the patient, and most important is that for every mission all medical details are clarified. When it is alerted, the MissionControlCentre(MCC) collects patient and hospital data and consults a physician. The physician communicates with the patient’s doctor to discuss various medical aspects, such as what kind of illness or injury the patient is suffering and whether the patient is in a position to be transported.”
If the patient is given the all clear to be transported, the MCC assembles the crew: “The MCC informs the appropriate medical crew who will accompany the flight, as well as the pilots on call about the upcoming mission. The MCC also organises the complete transport of the patient from hospital bed tohospitalbed, including ground transportation. At the same time, the MCC prepares all flight details includingover-flightrights, landing permission, fuel stops and other extensive information.” This thorough approach to the process has allowed EAA to complete outstanding, and for Schomaker memorable missions such as the long distance patient transfer that was completed in March 2015. A patient contacted the organisation from Seoul, South Korea, with a request to be repatriated to the UK. EAA calculated that the mission would require two crews. As the second crew was to be positioned in Siberia, Russia, both crews required Russian visas. They also required overflight permits for Belarus, Russia and China, as well as landing permits for Russia, South Korea, Mongolia and the UK. EAA accepted the mission five days after the request was made, and within 36 hours had all the required permissions. An EAA Learjet 45XR started its journey towards the patient two days before the scheduled transfer, with the patient reported to be in a stable condition after being diagnosed with myocardial infarction. The patient was brought onboard the aircraft under mild sedation in Seoul, and after a refuelling and crew swap in Serbia, was flown back to the UK. He was even said to have shown signs of respiratory improvement when he landed.
Despite the successes and growths of 2016, for Schomaker his highlight of the year is obvious: “Winning the ITIJ provider of the year award!”
-- Courtesy or AirMed & Rescue