Four AW169 helicopters have so far been delivered from the factory in Italy to British operator Specialist Aviation Services (SAS), but none are yet in service. With the medical interior completion by SAS, various aspects of the work have required STC approval from EASA, and while that part would always be expected to take some time, the hold-up has become a story in itself. The first AW169 arrived to SAS’s hangar at Gloucestershire Airport in February 2016, exactly fifteen months ago on 11th February 2016.
Of all the necessary hoops to jump through, there has been an extended discussion between SAS and EASA on the oxygen bottles being fitted. SAS have been adamant that they want to use the standard bottle used by the UK’s National Health Service, while EASA wanted a different type commonly found on airliners – perhaps because that is what they had experience of. Data from the oxygen bottle manufacturer required by EASA has taken an extended time and been the primary cause of the delay, but patience has paid off with the SAS solution finally being accepted and tested by EASA. In the aviation world we are all aware of the phrase “the job’s not complete until the paperwork is done”, and it just awaits EASA rubber-stamping it all. Nigel Lemon from SAS told HeliHub.com that should be with them in 2-3 weeks.
1st June thus looks like a good target date for the first three AW169s to be delivered under operational contacts from SAS. These are for Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance (image below), Lincolnshire & Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance, and Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance (image above) – all rather unwieldy names to show the British counties that they serve. About a month later, the fourth will be delivered to Essex & Herts Air Ambulance as this recent arrival is still in the installation phase.
The enforced grounding has been a mixed blessing. The upgrade required by Leonardo for the landing gear retraction actuators has been achieved on each aircraft, along with the Phase 3 software update which takes the AW169 from 4,600kg take-off weight up to 4,800kg. A modification to the brakes was also required with the latter.
The standard equipment fit by SAS includes a longitudinal stretcher, nose-mounted Trakkabeam spotlight and a higher spec Night Vision system than is supplied as standard from the factory.
SAS has commitments for at least seven AW169s. Two are due for the Children’s Air Ambulance, and the first of these will arrive later this month. Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance are expecting a second aircraft. A further five are expected, given that SAS increased their original commitment for six to twelve with the signing of a Framework Agreement at Helitech in Amsterdam last year.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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