EGNOS key for COVID-19 emergency medical response

(source: European GNSS Agency GSA)

The European Space Programmes are playing a key role in managing the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular in supporting emergency and medical operations in all weather, anytime, when they are most needed. We have talked to air ambulance and emergency operators using EGNOS about their experience and how EGNOS is helping them to take care of EU citizens, operate more effectively in these difficult times and save lives.

During this difficult period, the perception of our world has changed and we recognise the health sector and care givers as our new heroes. When patients from remote areas need to be taken to a hospital at night, in difficult weather situations and life is at stake, EGNOS makes the operation safe. Patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection need to be transported in an operation that is safe for patients and crew.  The accessibility and efficiency gains offered by EGNOS make it possible to land in adverse weather conditions and limited visibility, which is a major advantage. The gains on mission time might well make the difference between life and death of a critically ill patient in regions with limited medical services available.

Previously, operators had to fly under visual flight rules, and therefore faced restrictions in difficult weather conditions or at night. This type of operation can be implemented at helipads in hospitals without the ground infrastructure costs required in conventional operations. In this way, EGNOS provides a cost efficient and safe solution to transfer patients and medical teams to those hospitals with increased reliability and availability, which is essential to save lives.

The GSA (http://www.gsa.europa.eu) was pioneer in supporting the implementation of EGNOS-based approaches and low-level routes in Europe, and is funding a large number of operations and helicopter upgrades. As of today, 23 operational helicopter approaches are using EGNOS in Italy, Austria, Norway, Italy, Czech Republic, France, Switzerland and Germany. Building on users’ needs, the EGNOS Safety of Life Service Definition Document also explicitly reflects rotorcraft operations and, in particular, EGNOS-based Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) operations.

In order to harmonise implementation of operations, the GSA supported the creation of the Five Lives Advisory Group (FLAG) of helicopter users, now consolidated as the European focal point for the coordination of EGNOS-based operations for emergency response. In cooperation with EASA and Eurocontrol, the group now includes more than 40 experts from National Aviation Authorities and Air Navigation Service Providers from all Member States, along with emergency operators and manufacturers working on helicopter operations based on EGNOS. In collaboration with all stakeholders the group has developed a three-year work programme for implementation and support of satellite-based rotorcraft operations and published Safety Guidance material for these operations.

(source: European GNSS Agency GSA)

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