A range of international operators at Helitech agreed that the certification process stipulated by authorities to allow helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operators to use night vision goggles (NVGs) in Europe needs to be quicker and more streamlined.
While all confirmed that safety had to be the main consideration whether operators were conducting day or night missions, it was unanimously agreed night operations using NVGs were always safer than not using them.
During the conference those speaking included representatives from the East Anglian Air Ambulance (with support provider Bond Air Services), Spanish operator Inaer, DRF Luftrettung from Germany and the Norwegian Air Ambulance.
“Flying with NVGs is much better than flying without,” said Erik Normann, manager of flight operations for Norwegian Air Ambulance. In 2012, Normann said that his organization had flown 7,757 flight hours, or which 1,716 were at night (22 percent) and 1,158 (15 percent) on NVGs. In Norway, particularly taking into account is position in the Northern Hemisphere, darkness is always a factor in providing a service to the population. Because of the rugged geography in some parts of the country, what is only a 15-minute flight be helicopter can be up to seven hours by car.
In terms of crew resource management (CRM), Normann said that both the pilot and HEMS crewmember in the cockpit had NVGs and that even the doctor in the back was given a hand-held device: “During a landing – all eyes count,” he said.
While the Norwegians have been operating with NVGs since 2002, the East Anglian Air Ambulance became the first UK HEMS operator to certified to use NVGs earlier this year. Bond Air Services director of flight operations Capt. Pete Cummings said: “East Anglia have been the first to really push for night HEMS. The CAA were supportive within their regulatory framework – and always erring on the side of caution.” With the application process beginning in November 2011, a list of considerations to gain approval was received from the CAA a month later. The CAA eventually published its safety directive in July 2012 – which included the requirement to illuminate the final approach area with white light from a height of 500 feet. This required the fitting of a Trakka A800 light onto the front left hand skid. Eventually, all points were satisfied and the first night HEMS flight took place on May 13, 2013. —By Andrew Drwiega
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