When to call a Fixed-Wing or a Helicopter Air Ambulance.

When to call a Fixed-Wing or a Helicopter Air Ambulance

October 1, 2020

Both helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes offer air ambulance services for transporting patients. However, different circumstances require specific aircraft:

When to use a Helicopter:

  • On-scene emergency airlifts, such as the site of a car accident. Helicopters can take off and land just about anywhere.
  • Short-distance transports between hospitals. If a stable patient needs to be moved a short distance (less than 100 miles) and their condition would not be negatively affected by increases in altitude, a helicopter may be the most-convenient option.

In conclusion, helicopters are used for short-distance, trauma-related emergency situations where time is crucially important.

When to use a Fixed-Wing:

  • Long-distance (100 miles or more) transportations of stable patients. Fixed-wing aircraft can handle longer flights better than helicopters can.
  • When a patient is at risk of adverse effects from flying in a helicopter. These include:
    • Even below 10,000 feet elevation a patient’s physiological condition can require them to be transported in a pressurized aircraft. Most helicopters do not have this capability. Such conditions include:
      • Trauma, respiratory diseases, unstable angina, multiple organ failure, cancer, stroke, congestive heart failure, heart attack, hemorrhagic stroke, peripheral arterial disease.
    • Flicker Vertigo. Flicker vertigo is caused by exposure to flickering or flashing lights that cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, panic, confusion, and in some cases seizures and blacking out. In a helicopter, sun or light passing through or reflecting off the rotor blades can cause a flickering effect in the cabin.
      • Patients with photosensitive epilepsy or otherwise known to have negative reactions to flashing lights should avoid helicopter transport.
    • Bariatric patients. Both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft take weight into account regarding all passengers, including pilots and medical staff. Due to their compact operating size, helicopters are very weight limited.
    • Inability to work code in a helicopter. Most medical equipment is stored in a compartment on the outside of a helicopter to save space. If emergency action is needed, the helicopter would need to land for the medical crew to access necessary equipment. This situation frequently creates a “hot landing,” in which rotor blades continue to spin, and exposes the patient to downdrafts, noise, and even dust and debris.
    • During bad weather. This includes
      • Icing Conditions: Helicopters don’t have anti-icing equipment like fixed-wings do, such as heating the edge of the wing or inflating pneumatic boots. Icing is a cause for concern after liftoff too. The temperature decreases as the aircraft gains altitude, increasing the risk of icing—especially when humidity is high.
      • Rain, Fog, and Snow: Lacking IVF equipment (electronic equipment that allows pilots to gauge conditions even when their window-vision is obscured), helicopters have trouble landing in these conditions. Fixed-wing aircraft always include an IVF system, though they too will take extra caution during takeoff and landing due to slippery conditions.
    • Financial Considerations. It cost significantly less to fly a fixed-wing aircraft than a helicopter, especially when it comes to medical flights.

CSI Aviation always takes note of a patient’s condition before accepting a transport. Should a helicopter flight be the swiftest and most necessary form of action, we will not hesitate to recommend it. For situations where a fixed-wing aircraft is mandatory, we offer our exceptional services. Every flight includes both a critically care trained paramedic, nurse, and two pilots.

CSI Aviation, Inc.:
3700 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Suite 1
Albuquerque, NM 87107

Contact Us:
Office: (505) 761-9000
Dispatch: (833) 435-9274
CSI Aviation, Inc. is a FAR Part 135 Air Carrier (Certificate# GRTA447E). Charter Flights will be operated by CSI or other FAR Part 135 and 121 Certified Air Carriers providing air charter services arranged by CSI that meet FAA and CSI standards.
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