Has 2022 seen business return to pre-Covid levels for FAI in terms of medical flights for tourists that weren’t related to Covid infections?
Contrary to my expectations, the number of requests for normal, non-Covid ambulance flights has increased drastically in recent months. Basically, the same level as before the pandemic could have been achieved, but FAI also has the problem of the entire aviation industry: there are still insufficient resources in many areas, such as the pilots. Although we are constantly expanding the pool of personnel, we do not expect the same strength until the beginning of next year. Amazingly, this year we actually had enquiries and missions in all regions of the world again. Of course, there was a large volume in the classic holiday destinations such as the Canary Islands or Turkey, but the Far East and the Caribbean are also showing significant growth again. And we had real ‘race routes’ to Europe or the US from the Middle East, organised by our branch in Dubai. In total, we have been to destinations in 101 countries around the world this year to date. As already mentioned, however, we were not able to serve our customers as we wanted, especially in the high season, because the missing resources could not be built up again to date and our availability was therefore not optimal.
Have you recently invested in new equipment, training or aircraft modifications that have allowed you to better meet the needs of clients this year as changing travel trends affect provision requirements?
Over the past two years, understandably, our investments in equipment, training and aircraft modifications have been more or less limited to the area of Covid transports. After the partial return to normality, we were now able to fall back on our usual resources, but also benefit from developments from the pandemic period such as the new loading ramps or more compact material bags. However, a trend that has been growing for years has just led to the purchase of additional equipment: enquiries about transport options for bariatric patients have increased significantly, which is why additional heavy-weight stretchers and the corresponding additional equipment were purchased.
How difficult was it to get the STC for the EpiShuttle patient transport unit? What did you learn during the process?
Since we have been working together with a specialised design organisation in the aeronautical field for many years to obtain approvals for modifications and in-house developments, the planning for a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the EpiShuttle was also a streamlined process. Nevertheless, due to the complex test setups for the material fire test and in particular for the pressure test in a specially modified pressure chamber, it was a time-consuming process. We initially considered the last component of the test series, the evacuation of a patient from the EpiShuttle and the aircraft in the shortest possible time, to be the most difficult task. However, after all the necessary steps had been clearly defined, this was mastered much faster than required by EASA. In retrospect, we have to say that we overestimated some points, but underestimated others. And this experience will help us in the future to evaluate certain steps more easily in complex approval processes.
When working with an assistance company, what standard protocols have you put in place that allow for timely and quality exchange of information, ensuring a smooth repatriation service from the request for a quote to delivering the patient to their destination?
During the pandemic, we had already introduced many new standard procedures that were regularly revised and made available to our customers to optimise processes during operations. In connection with Covid, this was of course necessary due to the many new regulatory constraints, but today we are still pursuing this path in terms of service level agreements to facilitate and improve cooperation between assistance teams and staff in our Operation Control Center. In order to be able to act even faster and more precisely from the inquiry to the final transport report, new software is currently being introduced that covers all aspects of sales and operational management.