Air ambulance interior design and technology – AirMed&Rescue
The interior of an air ambulance has to be meticulously designed to incorporate the right equipment, and ensure that this equipment is to hand when the medical crew needs it. Mandy Langfield considers the latest developments in aircraft interior design
It all starts, of course, with the selection of the aircraft itself – its size, its adaptability and its original purpose. While there are still jets in use that were originally designed as business aircraft and have been adapted for medical use, the more modern aircraft available for purchase are designed to be multi-purpose from their inception, and are thus better suited to their roles when it comes to ergonomics, ease of access to, and loading of, patients, and enhanced comfort for crews.
Pilatus had already enjoyed success with air ambulance operators thanks to its PC-12, which was rugged enough to cope with unpaved runways in Australia and Africa and pick up patients from the most remote locations in these areas. Its new PC-24 has improved on this template, with an increased operations level and faster top speed making it even more in demand. The fact its cabin altitude can be maintained at sea level up to Flight Level 230 is a specific bonus for critical care. Ignaz Gretener, VP General Aviation at Pilatus, told AirMed&Rescue: “Based on the demanding customer requirements, Pilatus offers a fully customised medical interior which was developed in a joint partnership with a renowned Swiss EMS interior manufacturer after the latest standards in industry.” Aerolite is the aircraft’s interior manufacturer, and the development of the design for the air ambulance interior also had input from the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which hopes to accept its new aircraft in October and November of this year. Oscar Schwenk, Chairman of Pilatus, said that the air ambulance market is ‘a perfect fit’ for the PC-24: “This is a growing niche,” he says, “and the PC-24, with its many features – such as a large cargo door, roomy cabin and short-field performance – is a perfect fit for this market.”
Roland Hengartner, CEO of Aerolite AG, noted that the Pilatus PC-24’s wider cargo door means that in developing the customised medical interior, Aerolite could take advantage of the increased size with a stretcher loading device that allows for easier and safer patient loading.
Martin Siegrist, Senior Vice-President Technical at LCI, an aircraft leasing organisation, pointed out that patient care is now a key driver of aircraft design, particularly helicopters. He said: “The dimensions of the cabin, and the space available for medical crew to operate in, must be optimised to permit full access to the entire patient body from both sides at all stages of the flight. High ceilings provide for a more comfortable working environment, as does the ability to rotate and move the platform.”
The capacity to choose between different cabin configurations (i.e. positioning the stretcher in transversal or longitudinal direction) means that aircraft can also be further optimised for different mission types. “A wide and regular cabin allows medical equipment to be stored in dedicated areas close to the patient and easily accessible to the medical crew,” said Siegrist, “while the provision of a spacious, separate bagging compartment means that rescue equipment can be stored without compromising the working environment.”
Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation offers a wide variety of interior customisation options, as it configures each medevac aircraft based on each customer’s specific needs. “Every medevac aircraft is equipped with an electric patient loading system and can include a wide array of options,” explained Rich Nevitt, Director for Gulfstream’s Special Missions business development unit. “Typical integrated systems include oxygen, suction and compressed air components, permanent medical beds, ample oxygen capacity and electrical outlets for medical equipment. All Gulfstream aircraft are engineered for passenger and patient comfort, with 100-per-cent fresh air distribution, soundproofing and low vibration.”
Gulfstream has made considerable advancements in medevac cabin design over the years – from the functionality of the medical environment to medical crew ergonomics. The company recently designed and delivered a state-of-the-art Gulfstream G550 medevac to the Beijing Red Cross Emergency Medical Center. With the admirable aim of revolutionising in-flight medical care, the aircraft has been designed to provide emergency crews with the most effective – and safe – access to patients possible. “For example,” continued Nevitt, “the aircraft features a transitional operating table for 360-degree in-flight patient access – a medevac first. An exclusive patient loading system and well-positioned medical equipment provide safe and efficient access to and from the aircraft’s cabin.” Gulfstream medevac interiors are designed with many of the same health attributes as other Gulfstream aircraft – including low cabin altitude pressure, advances in noise reduction and 100-per-cent fresh air. These optimal features contribute to an ideal medevac environment for critical care patients – and for medical professionals providing life-sustaining support.
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