Airbus Helicopters, December 08, 2020 - In the Alpes-Maritimes region of southern France, the yellow helicopter of France’s emergency medical service, SAMU 06, is known as a guardian angel. Attached to the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice (CHU) and based at Hospital Pasteur 2, SAMU 06 is part of a network of 105 SAMUs (the French acronym for: Urgent Medical Aid Service) that began in the 1960s to provide emergency medical services in France, with helicopter operations taking shape in the 1980s.
Onboard the SAMU 06 helicopter is an emergency medical team, alongside the specialised flight crew of operator Babcock France.
Together, this expert team achieves 400+ helicopter missions per year in a region known for its diverse geography and meteorological extremes. The 4,300 square kilometre area extends from the low Southern Alps to the Mediterranean coast and the island of Corsica. Flight crews frequently encounter complex flying conditions such as storms, snow, maritime overflight conditions, along with southern France’s infamous mistral winds.
Across France, Babcock operates a fleet of 32 Airbus-built helicopters (25 H135s and seven H145s) dispatched at 28 SAMU bases. Together, they completed more than 15,500 missions in 2019.
Unlike other French SAMUs, a majority of the missions performed by SAMU 06 are primary missions – or in-field rescues and transports, 15% of which are conducted at altitudes greater than 15,000 feet. As an example, a SAMU rescue to the skiing resort Isola 2000 that takes more than 1 hr. 50 min. by ground ambulance is reduced to only 20 minutes using a helicopter.
One year ago, SAMU 06 began operating a new H145, greatly appreciated for its performance, high availability, spacious and flexible cabin, and state-of-the-art equipment. “With the H145, we feel we can tackle almost any mission,” explained Dr. Christophe Lemesle, responsible for HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) dispatch at Nice Hospital. “Additionally, we now have the cabin space to carry a second patient or an accompanying family member. We also can take more equipment on board, enabling us to manage back-to-back missions with a much wider range of patient cases.”
The H145 enables SAMU 06 to go beyond its standard mission perimeter. A recent example was the SAMU 06 lending a hand to neighbouring SAMU 83 for a mission requiring a specialised “counter-pulse” balloon for a cardiac patient. And when the village of Tende was hit with devastating flooding in early October 2020 and road access was fully cut off, SAMU 06’s H145 transported patients and material in and out of Tende and its local hospital over a 10-day period.
According to Chief Pilot Jean-Bernard Pétroni, the H145’s “must-have” features for HEMS operations in enhancing flight safety include the synthetic vision system coupled with HTAWS (helicopter terrain awareness and warning system) for situational awareness, along with a rear camera on the tail boom for mountain landings as well as the Traffic Advisory System (TAS) when flying in airspace with many airplanes. Pétroni added: “This aircraft feels like the safest platform I have ever flown.”
For Christophe Mauron, the Director of Babcock EMS France, the H145 and H135 answer the availability criteria – which is important for HEMS. “As an operator, we commit to an availability rate and therefore need a helicopter with a solid and clean design” he explained. “And if a part fails, we count on Airbus for good part availability to quickly return the aircraft to service. The overall reliability of the H135 and H145 is one of the key reasons for Babcock to choose an Airbus fleet solution.”