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After a difficult four years for the air medical industry, CEO of Airbus Helicopters North America, Chris Emerson, said he feels a “general optimism” for the sector.
From the company’s perspective on what is happening in the U.S. helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) market, Emerson said the model has changed for HEMS operators. “They’re adapting cost structures, they’re looking at how they utilize their aircraft . . . and they’re looking closely at bases that make sense and those that don’t,” Emerson told Vertical at the 2018 Air Medical Transport Conference (AMTC) in Phoenix, Arizona.
“And they’re not buying new aircraft without doing a comprehensive net present value,” he added.
While community-based models make up a large percentage of U.S. air medical programs, Emerson said there is increasing interest in hospital-based models, which have not raised their billing rates as dramatically as have some community-based providers in recent years. He suggested that hospital-based models provide a “value” and “needed level of service” to urban areas.
Looking at Airbus’s current position in the market, the company holds 70 percent of the new-order market share in North America. Emerson told Vertical this is the strongest Airbus Helicopters has entered the fourth quarter since he’s been with the company, adding that the company will also hit its targets before the end of the month — though targets were adjusted as a result of the downturn.
“I would say since the crisis Airbus has enjoyed the most multi-ship sales in the last four years, thus resulting in the most sales into air medical over the last four years — evidenced today with the REACH five-ship deal,” Emerson said.
Airbus announced the sale of three H125s and two H130s to REACH Air Medical Services on the second day of AMTC 2018.
With the company experiencing overall growth in the HEMS sector, Airbus specifically foresees an increase in sales of twins, especially in urban environments. “Right now it’s 70-30,” Emerson said. “Seventy percent of the [EMS] helicopters are single and 30 [percent] are twin, and it’s going to migrate again to have a little healthier balance.”
Over the last four years, Airbus Helicopters North America has sold more twin-engine helicopters than singles in the air medical sector.
“It’s more about getting the capability, the equipment and the know-how on the helicopter to provide that service immediately — not in the golden hour,” Emerson said. With twin-engines like the H145, the spacious cabin allows the opportunity to bring a second nurse on board to augment an on-scene rescue.
“Because of that level of service on the H145… it’s a flying hospital,” he added.
Airbus is also seeing interest from air medical operators for its new H160 model, which is expected to achieve initial certification in late 2019. Emerson said the twin-engine aircraft offers the largest cabin in its class, roll-in stretcher capability, lower maintenance costs, and most importantly, speed.
Transporting critical patients or organs are time-sensitive missions. “You’re in an environment where the jet actually might be faster, but to get to the runway from the hospital… it doesn’t work,” said Emerson. “Today our H155s are out there doing that rapid hospital top to hospital top transportation because it’s time sensitive. The H160 will be exactly that again, and it will be faster.”
Airbus recently displayed an EMS mock up of the H160 at Helitech International in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Will Fulton, director of product and regional marketing at Airbus Helicopters, said “it went over very well,” adding that Airbus is getting some voice-of-customer feedback on what that cabin looks like.
Airbus is currently in talks with some leading programs that are interested in the H160 for air medical transport services.