EHAC Symposium 2021: 5 Key Takeaways for Helicopter Training

Hillsboro Heli Academy, the helicopter school for Hillsboro Aero Academy, recently became the first helicopter pilot education provider to be invited into the European HEMS and Air Ambulance Committee (EHAC), an industry organization that works cooperatively to improve delivery of emergency medical care in Europe. We're excited to be able to use what we learn from our EHAC colleagues to drive continuous improvement in our EASA-FAA Joint Training Program.
Our first chance to gain insight from our colleagues came at the EHAC Symposium 2021 on June 8 -- an event rich with presentations from industry veterans and innovators. We want to share what we learned that day with HEMS operators and with our future helicopter pilots, especially as it pertains to helicopter pilot careers.
As befits the purpose of EHAC, the theme for the event was certainly "collaboration" -- not just among operators, but as a core component of a crew's skills. It was rewarding for us to be at the table with a group of colleagues that shared those values. Here are just a handful of insights that grabbed our attention that day:
1. Instrument skills are critical to HEMS success.
We recently wrote about the importance of the Instrument rating in commercial helicopter pilot training, and that importance was reinforced in a presentation by Norwegian Air Ambulance on "all weather search & rescue." In Norway, the ability to provide equal access to emergency medicine is absolutely dependent on helicopter pilots with strong instrument flying skills, given the remoteness of much of Norway's population and the challenges posed by dark winters and persistent fog. Equal access also requires the right equipment -- instrument-rated helicopters and infrared cameras -- and the right bases of operations to reach remote populations.
2. Cooperation among providers save lives.
We were encouraged to hear from one of Germany's two primary HEMS operators, DRF, about their cooperation with the other primary operator, ADAC -- one of our Career Pathway partners. In order to meet the high standard of "two minutes from alarm to takeoff," a rescue coordination center identifies the closest base and provider ready to deploy. This is made possible through direct collaboration by the two providers on fleet mapping to ensure operational readiness.
3. Helicopter transport is key to specialized care.
The fast-rising new star in European HEMS operations, Danish Air Ambulance, shared the results of a study and pilot program they conducted prior to developing their operations. They uncovered that access to specialized trauma centers was greatly improved using helicopter-based transport vs. ambulance, and that the general public felt more assured of safety with an air ambulance system in place.
4. Crew Resource Management is an increasingly important skill.
An exciting presentation by Rega - Swiss Air Ambulance on HEMS in extreme environments. Rescues on steep mountainsides often involve Human External Cargo (HEC) maneuvers, a very different scenario from urban rescues. These scenarios require very solid Crew Resource Management (CRM) training, especially since one may be working with mountain guides and medics for the first time in a given rescue. Learning how to use structured communication and informed decision-making is critical in this instance.
5. Human factors and teamwork are as important as technical skills.
In a similar vein, Norwegian Air Ambulance emphasized the importance of teamwork abilities in its rigorous 7-day assessment process in selecting new crew members. A significant portion of the operator's evaluation is focused on a candidate's communication, problem-solving, and and task management skills, assessing how two candidates interact with each other and using a detailed scoring system to test candidates' ability to maintain operational focus.
As HEMS is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting career tracks in helicopter operations, prospective pilots should pay close attention to the qualities and skills that HEMS operators are seeking. Through our participation in EHAC, we will continue to innovate our own program to ensure that our students are prepared to be the HEMS pilots of the future.