Protecting Australian communities with 24/7 aeromedical, search and rescue capabilities

written by Babcock Australasia | February 3, 2022

For more than 30 years, Babcock Australasia’s engineers, pilots, aircrew and rescue crew have been keeping communities safe across Australia, from the waters of the Torres Strait in Far North Queensland, to the Bass Strait south of Victoria, to the red sands of the Simpson Desert in South Australia’s far north.

Responding to high-risk and sometimes life-threatening situations, at all hours of the day and night, and often in challenging weather conditions, requires teamwork, expertise and training.

“Babcock pilots and aircrew officers work in a close-knit team with emergency services, law enforcement and government agencies, which is critical when conducting operations at short notice and when the safety of others is at risk,” said Duncan Milne, Babcock Australasia’s General Manager – Contract Delivery & Performance.

As Australia’s largest provider of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS), Babcock operates, crews and maintains a fleet of seven Leonardo AW139 and seven Bell 412 helicopters from eight bases located across Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

“Our helicopters undergo heavy modifications to become flying ambulances, including the addition of plumbed medical oxygen, medical electrical power, medical lighting, and suction and stretcher carriage with the ability to carry two patients,” Mr Milne said.

“All are equipped with a rescue winch allowing paramedics and rescue crew to be lowered into remote places to rescue patients, including bushland, boats and the ocean.”

Babcock plays an integral role in delivering world-class emergency aeromedical response, patient care and recovery in partnership with Ambulance Victoria, Queensland Health, RACQ Central Queensland Rescue Helicopter Service (CQ Rescue), RACQ Capricorn Rescue Helicopter Service (CapRescue) and the South Australian Ambulance Service.

“We are often the community’s only lifeline to help them when they need it,” Mr Milne said.

“Our operations are around the clock, with crews flying almost 12,000 hours each year to transport 4,300 patients to hospital, often from remote locations, flying more than 4,500 Emergency Medical Service (EMS) and 173 Search & Rescue (SAR) missions.

Central to the success of these operations is Babcock’s commitment to working in partnership with clients’ personnel to form an integrated team focussed on keeping people alive and getting them help when they need it.

“Our crews understand the regions in which we operate, the challenges posed by the weather and environment and the taskings they will likely be undertaking,” Mr Milne said.

“For example, our crews based at Adelaide Airport are most often conducting hospital transfers or responding to road trauma, whereas operations at Horn Island Airport in the remote Torres Strait for Queensland Health are often over water taskings with limited support from ground assets.

“With transportation to medical facilities in the Torres Strait being limited, and the nearest hospital located on Thursday Island, Babcock ensures ongoing access to EMS for some of the hardest-to-reach communities.

“In Central Queensland, Babcock works as an integral team with CQ Rescue and CapRescue to respond to major trauma incidents and life-threatening medical emergencies on roads, stations, mines, and gas sites, as well as conducting SAR operations.”

Keeping sophisticated aircraft ready to fly at short notice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year is a complicated task that is testament to Babcock’s expertise, commitment and focus on safe practices.

“Our experienced engineering staff manage a regular servicing schedule and include airframe/engine and avionics engineers. We maintain an ‘on call’ system allowing engineering response whenever it is required to deal with any unscheduled maintenance,” Mr Milne said.

“Our role is response-based, and as such our aircraft and aircrews stand ready to launch on as little as 10 minutes notice when people are in need or the safety of the community is at stake.”

Babcock also provides qualification training to pilots, aircrew and engineers as well as specialist aeromedical training to their clients’ emergency services personnel.

In the Torres Strait Babcock provides specialist aeromedical training to the Queensland Health paramedics, which enables them to conduct down-the-wire water winch rescue operations in addition to their medical duties.

“We also provide specialist aeromedical training for Ambulance Victoria’s Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance (MICA) Flight Paramedics to conduct HEMS operations, including down-the-wire land and water winch rescue operations,” Mr Milne said.

“As a result, there is a high level of professional respect between the crew members and a close bond forged by shared experiences.”

Babcock is an early adopter of new and emerging technologies suitable for HEMS and SAR operations.

“We are examining the miniaturisation of CT scanners, which are currently undergoing research, for integration into our HEMS aircraft. A CT scanner capable of being mounted in an ambulance, helicopter or aeroplane would allow quick diagnosis of stroke patients and provide timely intervention with a revolutionary improvement in recovery outcomes,” Mr Milne said.

“We’re also investigating emerging aircraft technologies such as the AW609 tiltrotor aircraft. The tiltrotor will be able to hover and land like a helicopter but tilt the ‘proprotors’ to fly like an aeroplane. Such an aircraft could make a significant contribution to aeromedical services particularly in the outback.”

At the centre of Babcock’s operations is an enterprise management approach, which is inclusive of customers, suppliers and end-users. Through this approach, Babcock can deliver the services of a Prime Contractor and fosters a strong, sustainable and innovative partnership model. The result is industry-leading emergency services capabilities for government, military and commercial customers.

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