Finnish winters are known for their harsh, snowy conditions and lack of daylight, especially in the north of the country. For HEMS operations, this is a challenging environment. Snow or darkness alone may not necessarily be a problem, but combinations of severe conditions, such as night-time flights in a blizzard, are always difficult.
Demanding winter conditions are one of the reasons FinnHEMS, the operator responsible for helicopter emergency medical services in Finland, has introduced its flight operations standards that go beyond national and international regulations.
“The purpose of the higher standards is to guarantee flight safety 24/7 in all conditions, across the country,” says Tuomas Suominen, senior aviation specialist at FinnHEMS.
FinnHEMS is a non-profit organization owned by five university hospital districts. The state funds its operations. FinnHEMS uses six bases and eight helicopters in different parts of the country. Its flights are operated by two airlines: in the south by Skärgårdshavets Helikoptertjänst Ab and in the north by Babcock Scandinavian AirAmbulance.
Simulators take training to a new level
FinnHEMS flight operations standards require flight crews to undergo extra flight training each year. The crew of the northern flight operator’s EC145T2 fleet has since late 2017 completed part of its simulator training at the Coptersafety training center in Vantaa. Before simulators, most training was done by flying real aircraft.
“Simulators make our training activities significantly more efficient by providing comprehensive first-class opportunities to practice flying in extreme conditions, including emergencies and instrument flying. This is very important to us because all our pilots hold Single-Pilot IR ratings,” Suominen says.
Enhanced safety with NVIS equipment
In addition to crew and training requirements, FinnHEMS standards make the use of specific equipment and devices that improve flight safety mandatory. These include night vision imaging systems (NVIS) as well as HTWAS and ACAS systems that warn pilots of other traffic and obstacles.
Simulators can be programmed to simulate demanding scenarios that are both typical of Finnish conditions and highlight the importance of safety technology.
“Imagine a helicopter landing in darkness in a field at an accident site. In the worst-case scenario, visibility will be near zero because of all the snow flying in the air,” Suominen says.