AW139 EMS interiors – it’s not just an Ornge problem

AW139 EMS interiors – it’s not just an Ornge problem 9 Feb, 12, Source: HeliHub.com

Ontario’s air ambulance operator Ornge has had a number of problems recently, a number of them documented here on HeliHub.com.

One ongoing aspect is the “emergency room in the air” EMS interior fitted to the AW139s which have been deemed unsuitable for the role they are intended for.  Problems identified particularly include the height of the equipment which makes it at best awkward, and at worth dangerous, for the paramedics to perform CPR on the patient.  Dr. Bruce Sawadsky, the top doctor at Ornge is quoted here saying that the interior is “a high risk environment”.  A copyrighted photo of the interior can be found here.

It then turned out that Ornge had allegedly hidden the tender documents under an obscure section of the Ontario public tender website, and only the Swiss company Aerolite found it.  This raised allegation of a strong tie between AgustaWestland and Aerolite, but Geoff Russell, AW’s head of media affairs, denied that to HeliHub.com.  We also looked into which supplier provided the “emergency room in the air” interiors in EMS AW139s in Italy, one of AW’s two home countries, and we still only found Aerolite interiors fitted.  While AW are publically saying that you can have any EMS interior supplier, it is pointing to “you can have any interior, but your options for an emergency room in the air are Aerolite, Aerolite or Aerolite, in that order”.  For AW139 operators who do not need the full “emergency room in the air”, other options do exist, including Spectrum Aeromed, LifePort andAir Ambulance Technology.

Other EMS interior suppliers have told us that they would have certainly wanted to bid on this contract had they had the chance.  Even without an STC’d interior, the very fact that Ornge were buying ten aircraft provided sufficient slack to allow for the research and development of getting the STC clearance from scratch.  The approach taken on the Ornge contract alienated the local Canadian supplier Airtech Canada who provided the interiors for Ornge’s Sikorsky S76 fleet that the AW139s are superceding.

So, rightly or wrongly, there is a finger pointing at the Aerolite interior supplied on the Ornge fleet.

But it’s not just Ornge that has this issue.  Maryland State Police (MSP) are also going through the process of acquiring ten AW139s to replace their Eurocopter Dauphin fleet, and are even considering increasing the order to eleven.  The first two aircraft were due for delivery to Maryland by 1st May but these are on hold due to issues with the medical interior.  Jack Cahalan, Director of Public Affairs for the Maryland Department of Transportation is reported as saying a change order was requested by the MSP and the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

It did not take HeliHub.com too long to confirm that the Aerolite interior is at the centre of this issue too.  Hans Bretscher from Aerolite America LLC, the US office of the Swiss manufacturer, confirmed to us that MSP is also having the Aerolite interior fitted, and that they are “on schedule and within budget”.  Aerolite America is contracted to Agusta Aerospace in Philadelphia, so MSP would not have tendered separately for the medical interiors in their AW139s.

Our research also found an operator of an EMS AW109 Grand who wanted an interior other than Aerolite when they ordered, but (in their words) caved in and accepted AW’s recommendation of Aerolite after so many barriers were put in the way of the competitor interior that they were at risk of losing the operating contract by not having an appropriately specified aircraft in the right place by the right time.  We have not been able to verify the truth of this, merely repeating it here after we took it on face value.  We have no reason not to believe it.

We welcome comment from others on this issue to [email protected]

Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com

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