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India Looks to Air Ambulances to Enhance Healthcare System

photo by Ville Miettinen from Helsinki, Finland Staying current with trends around the world, healthcare firms in India are reportedly looking to air ambulances to improve their emergency healthcare response system and transport patients in remote areas to hospitals across the country.

Sify, a Financial/Business News service in India, has just reported that OSS Air Management, a Delhi-based helicopter service provider, has acquired two AugustaWestland AW-109′s with the goal of starting the first helicopter ambulance service in Bangalore by this summer. (Technically the company is aiming for mid-2011, which means in India it will be the Monsoon season – it will be summer in the northern hemisphere.)

OSS is using the AW-109s as part of a “pilot project” for medical service deployment in Bangalore. For this, they have joined forces with a prominent super-specialty hospital in the city called Vydehi. During this stage of the project, OSS will supply the helicopters, the pilots to fly them, and the mechanics to maintain them – while facilities for the new ambulances like helipads, fuel, and residences for the pilots will be supplied by their partner hospital.

As exciting as this news is, it’s important to note that air ambulances are not an entirely new presence in India’s healthcare system. Air ambulance services have existed in the country for well over ten years, but have been operated exclusively with single or twin-engine planes. India’s unique topography and geography, however, is especially suited for helicopter transport – the new air ambulances will be able to travel to remote areas without airfields, operating from unprepared or semi-prepared helipads.

Sify reports that helicopter ambulances are known for saving countless lives the world over, largely due to their critical role in disaster relief operations, as well as responding to victims of road accidents and other injurious incidents.

“Look at the United States, they have 800 helicopters in operation for these type of services,” said K.V. Kunhikrishnan, a retired Indian Air Force group captain and the general manager of AgustaWestland Support Services in India.

According to OSS Chief Executive V. Krishnan, the helicopters will be modified to include ample space for stretchers and medical equipment, as well as sufficient seating for a small crew of paramedics and a single family member.

All over the world, helicopter ambulances work in tandem with other countries’ government-provided healthcare services, as well as hospitals and insurance providers. Krishnan says that India is at a stage where there are numerous possibilities for partnerships with hospitals, insurance companies, highway authorities, and the government.

The initial number of medical helicopters deployed will be relatively low, but is expected to grow up to a fleet of 25 within the next 3-4 years. Further growth is expected as the nation’s infrastructure for helicopter emergency medical services is expanded.

Eurocopter India’s chief executive Marie-Agnes Veve believes that the helicopter air ambulance sector will be a major growth driver in the future. She says it is a key part of Eurocopter’s growth strategy and financial goals over the next 3-4 years.

Eurocopter India was launched at the end of last October in a move by Eurocopter to capture 50 percent of the country’s civilian helicopter market.

Preceding this, last March, when Eurocopter signed a contract to supply seven Dauphin “AS 365 N3″ helicopters to India’s leading helicopter operator, state-run PHHL, Veve noted that the aviation industry in India is experiencing “tremendous growth,” adding that “the aviation sector has become more receptive to new [aircraft] models and state-of-the-art technology.”

“We will see how this project works for the future expansion of this market segment,” said Krishnan.

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