COVID-19 – AW139 supporting COVID-19 operations in Canada

COVID-19 – AW139 supporting COVID-19 operations in Canada

29-May-2020 Source: Leonardo

During the spread of Covid-19, Leonardo has seen operators of its aircraft adapt, react and overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic across geographies. Air ambulance operators Ornge and STARS have managed to continue conducting life-saving missions across Canada throughout the emergency.


Both of these healthcare organisations have shared with Leonardo how they were adapting to the ‘new normal’ and how the Leonardo AW139 helicopter has been supporting their patient transportation missions during these difficult times.


STARS serves Western Canada, catering to remote areas and communities as well as highways and passenger transportation.  The provinces STARS operates in includes Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. The air ambulance operator is seeing around 12% of its missions involve patients with influenza-like illnesses, which may include Covid-19.


Mike Haska, Director of Marketing and Communications at STARS, shared how the air ambulance operator has managed under the new circumstances:

“Our team has adapted very well to the challenges posed by Covid-19. We have undertaken significant efforts to develop and train crews on enhanced procedures and secure supplies of critical equipment to protect our crews.”


Ornge also shared similar sentiments and emphasised how the great people behind these organisations are ensuring its business as usual despite these trying times.

“Like every healthcare organisation, the health and safety of Ornge staff and patients is our top priority. Ornge staff have adapted to the pandemic and helped implement a number of innovative solutions including enhanced telemedicine support, an expanded Critical Care Land Ambulance programme and more,” said Joshua McNamara, Public Relations Officer at Ornge.


Ornge is a vital lifeline to the people of Ontario and its AW139 fleet, comprising of a dozen helicopters alongside aircraft and land ambulances, performs duties from one of 12 bases across the province.


Both operators are adhering to guidelines and directives from the provinces’ health authorities as well as Transport Canada regulations. The twin-engine AW139 is operated around the world and, in September 2019, the 1,000th helicopter of the type was delivered. The helicopter is an ideal EMS platform with its spacious and configurable cabin which can accommodate up to 15 people.


McNamara commented on the AW139’s operational support and how its latest technologies help Ornge’s mission: “The AW139 is a state of the art aircraft allowing Ornge to access patients in remote locations. Additionally, the AW139 travels faster and allows our crews to transport patients safely due to state of the art navigation and on board technology.”

McNamara continued on the AW139’s benefits and capabilities: “The range, speed, and versatility of the aircraft allow us to respond to a variety of types of patient transports, which is critical as we respond to Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients across the province.”


Within the STARS fleet portfolio are three AW139s, alongside other aircraft, which enable the air ambulance operator to operate 24/7, a vital service to the people it serves.

Haska said on the platform’s benefits to the fleet: “The AW139 is a modern and capable helicopter for EMS operations. We continue to see steady mission volumes across our bases so ensuring we are ready to respond to patients in need, whether their medical circumstances involve Covid-19 or not, is crucial.”


The AW139 has been adapted to the challenges posed by the pandemic; not only are the crew more adept and learned with wearing PPE but they have adapted the helicopter’s configuration and equipment placement within each aircraft to suit the mission, Haska explained. He continued that “select equipment or supplies [can] be off-loaded prior to responding to a Covid-19-positive or suspected patient to reduce the amount of decontamination required post-mission.”


STARS’ air medical crews are extremely experienced and highly trained to deal with many types of infectious diseases, so the team’s existing processes were able to deal with the Covid-19 threat well. However, the frequency has increased by which the crews use PPE such as masks, gowns and gloves on all types of missions during this time.

Haska explained: “This is to ensure our staff are not required to self-isolate in the event a patient is later found to have been Covid-positive. This helps us ensure we can maintain 24/7 operations across our bases.”


This approach is similar to Ornge which has enhanced its cleaning to high touch areas. On how Leonardo has provided support to the operator during this difficult time, McNamara shared:

“Leonardo has provided Ornge with instruction for approved methods of disinfection in the cockpit and cabin for the AW139. The Company remains supportive and responsive and continues to provide seamless support for maintenance activities since the onset of Covid-19.


“We’re also grateful that, as the world faces a strain on the supply chain due to numerous requests and organisational shutdowns, Leonardo’s supply chain remains uninterrupted and Ornge continues to receive the necessary parts to maintain our aircraft.”


As operators like STARS and Ornge continue to meet the threat of Covid-19 head-on, Leonardo plays a key role in the work of the air ambulance services and the crucial role they play in transporting people by providing and supporting helicopters which undertake life-saving missions around the world, day after day.

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