Zurich Airport, 13 April 2022
Today, at its Annual Media Conference, Swiss Air-Rescue Rega presented its further developed drone system and a new version of the Rega app. The Rega drone, which is equipped with various sensors, is deployed when poor visibility prevents the Rega search helicopter from being used. The new version of the tried-and-tested Rega app is now even more user-friendly, enables an injured person to be located more quickly, and thus helps to save lives.
On 27 April 2022, Rega celebrates its 70th anniversary. What began with courageous pioneers in the 1950s is today one of the most modern air rescue organisations in the world and forms an integral part of the Swiss healthcare system. This development is characterised by Rega’s resolve to use cutting-edge technology to help people in distress. Rega’s drone system and the Rega app are just two examples of how, seven decades later, Rega is still continually searching for ways of further improving its air rescue services for the benefit of the Swiss population.
Search flights with a Rega helicopter
If there is good reason to believe that a person has gone missing and is probably in urgent need of help, Rega’s Operations Centre initiates a rescue search. To do this, it has various resources at its disposal. A search flight with the nearest Rega helicopter and a crew who are familiar with the area is a sensible and swift initial measure in daylight if, for instance, the planned route of a missing hiker is known. For search flights in the dark, Rega has a search helicopter that is fitted, among other things, with an IR/EOS multi-sensor search system, a highly sensitive thermal imaging camera and a mobile phone location device. The Rega search helicopter is on standby for search missions around the clock at the Wilderswil base. If, for example, poor visibility prevents a helicopter from taking to the air, the Rega drone can be deployed along with ground-based mountain rescuers from the Swiss Alpine Club SAC.
The Rega drone goes into action when the search helicopter has to remain on the ground
Over the last few years, the drone system has continually been developed further. After conducting comprehensive tests under all kinds of conditions and subsequently finetuning the individual components, since autumn 2021 the Rega Operations Centre has been able to deploy the drone – which bears the designation "RGA-UAV-T1A" – for search operations. The drone can autonomously scan large search areas and is equipped with various sensors. With the airborne mobile phone location device, "Lifeseeker", the drone is able to locate a mobile phone with an accuracy of a few metres, even if there is no mobile phone coverage in the search area. In addition, a human detection pipeline was designed for the drone. Thanks to a self-learning algorithm, this system can automatically detect persons in the terrain on the real-time images delivered by the thermal imaging camera and relay this data to the Rega drone specialist, who coordinates the search operation and the subsequent rescue mission from his workplace at the helicopter base in Wilderswil.
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Rega app: making the tried-and-tested even better
A further example of innovation for the welfare of patients is the Rega app. The Rega app was launched back in 2011 and was the first emergency app in Switzerland that could be used to transmit location data to an emergency call centre. Since then, it has been downloaded over 1.6 million times and has proved its worth in thousands of rescue missions. Rega has further improved the app and it is now even more intuitive to use. With this latest version of the app, Rega is also laying the technical foundations for future upgrades.
Mission coordinates are transmitted directly into the cockpit
The greatest advantage when raising the alarm via the Rega app is that the caller’s location is automatically transmitted to Rega’s Operations Centre. A phone connection is set up with the Operations Centre and the location of the person raising the alarm is displayed on a map. Subsequently, the flight coordinator initiates the rescue and transmits the coordinates of the accident site directly into the cockpit of the Rega helicopter that is being deployed. This makes it easier for the helicopter crew to find the accident site and saves valuable time in an emergency.
Rega in 2021
Rega can look back on a record year: in 2021, the Operations Centre at Zurich Airport organised a total of 18,017 missions, 10.7 percent more than in the previous year. That is equivalent to an average of around 50 missions per day. Both the rescue helicopters with 14,330 missions (+8.1 %) and the ambulance jets with 858 missions (+32.6 %) were in the air more frequently than in 2020. This growth in the number of repatriations is attributable to increased travel activity on the part the population compared to the first year of the pandemic. The Rega crews attended to a total of 12,284 patients (+10.3 %), which corresponds to approximately 34 patients a day. Further information about Rega’s missions in 2021 can be found in the press release dated 1 February 2022.
53,000 new patrons in 2021
Rega’s patrons enable it to provide air rescue services for the Swiss population with their annual contributions. Rega was delighted to welcome 53,000 new patrons as per the end of 2021, which by way of comparison is roughly equivalent to the population of the city of Biel. As of 31 December 2021, a total of 3,678,000 patrons were supporting Rega.
The Rega business year 2021
In 2021, Rega’s operating revenue totalled CHF 205.4 million, while the operating expenditure came to CHF 187.9 million. This resulted in a positive operating result of CHF 17.6 million. The annual result amounted to CHF 29.8 million. Rega’s patrons covered around 63.5 percent of the overall costs with their patronage contributions, donations and bequests. The remaining amount was mainly covered by cost bearers, such as insurance companies, in the form of payments for the rescue services provided.
Rega-Base Dübendorf, 12 April 2019
At its Annual Media Conference, Rega presented a new type of aircraft for searching for missing persons: the newly developed Rega drone can autonomously scan large search areas and is equipped with various sensors, such as a thermal camera. As a result, in future, Rega will have at its disposal an additional device to help it search for people in distress.
Over the last year and a half, Rega has been working on its own drone project. In future, the Rega drone is to be deployed on missions to search for missing, injured or ill persons to supplement the conventional resources - for example, if the helicopter has to remain on the ground due to poor visibility. Such missions are performed in close collaboration with other rescue partners, in particular the police. Further comprehensive test flights are necessary before the drone system can be used in search operations as from 2020.
Valuable expansion of Rega's scope of operations
"Ever since it was founded, Rega has continually used cutting-edge technology to further improve air rescue and to come to the aid of even more people in distress", says Rega CEO Ernst Kohler. "I am confident that the Rega drone will expand our scope of operations even further." When developing the drone system, Rega was able to draw on its decades of experience in conducting countless search missions. In the last year alone, Rega searched for missing persons from the air on around 160 occasions because there was good reason to believe that a person needed help.
Taking the initiative
"We observed the development of drone technology from an early stage and were always convinced that drones could be of help in particular on search missions," says Head of Helicopter Operations Sascha Hardegger, who is in charge of the project. However, there is currently no drone system on the market that meets all of Rega's requirements. In particular, it is not possible to operate a relatively small, lightweight and flexible drone over a distance of several kilometres and for several hours without visual contact with the drone pilot. "As a result, we took the initiative and decided to develop a Rega drone ourselves in collaboration with suitable partners", says Hardegger. Rega has spent the last 18 months or so intensively working on its own drone project with the aim of making this additional operational device available for search missions in the very near future.
The drone looks like a mini helicopter
With its three rotor blades and a rotor diameter of just over two metres, the new Rega drone looks like a mini helicopter and in appearance has little in common with commercially available multicopter drones. During a search mission, it flies at an altitude of 80-100 metres above ground level and, using satellite navigation, it scans large search areas precisely and autonomously following a predefined route. It is also able to independently detect and avoid other aircraft or obstacles, such as helicopters and overhead cables. This is possible thanks to anti-collision systems, coupled with countless data stored in the drone's in-flight computer, such as digital models of the terrain and obstacle databases. The drone is not deployed over densely populated regions or in the vicinity of airports or airfields. In addition, it is equipped with an emergency parachute.
Sensors on board to locate missing persons
Various sensors on board the drone make it possible to locate missing persons from the air. The signals from the infrared and daylight cameras are categorised in real-time on board the drone with the aid of a self-learning algorithm. This software is being developed in collaboration with the ETH Zurich. If, based on the pixel pattern of the images, the algorithm "presumes" to have located a person, the drone immediately relays this information to the operator on the ground. It is also planned to use an integrated mobile phone tracking function to search for injured or ill persons. This allows the Rega drone to locate a mobile phone in an uninhabited area from a distance of several hundred metres and thus most probably also find its owner. The prototype of this device is currently being trialled in collaboration with the police, who are responsible for emergency searches for missing persons. Here particular attention is paid to protecting sensitive data.
The drone as a supplementary aid
"Even if the drone is unmanned and can fly autonomously, it still needs a well-trained drone crew, comprising an operator and a pilot, to coordinate the search with the various rescue teams and to deploy the drone effectively," Sascha Hardegger explains. "Difficult person searches only have a chance of succeeding if all the rescue teams involved work closely together. In certain cases, the drone will be a useful supplementary aid, but it will never completely replace the Rega helicopter and its crew. If the search for an ill or injured person proves successful, a Rega helicopter or other form of rescue will still be needed to recover the person or fly medical assistance to the site of the incident."
Rega in 2018
Rega can look back on an intensive year of operations: in 2018, its Operations Centre organised a total of 17,124 missions, 7.3 percent more than in 2017. On average, that is equivalent to around two missions per hour - day and night. Both the helicopters with 12,573 missions (+6.8 %) and the ambulance jets with 980 missions (+10.8 %) were in the air more frequently than in the previous year. Rega crews attended to 11,579 patients (+7.3 %), which corresponds to approximately 32 patients per day.
47,000 new patrons in 2018
Rega's patrons enable it to provide air-rescue services for the Swiss population with their annual contributions. Rega was delighted to welcome 47,000 additional patrons as per the end of 2018, which as a comparison is roughly equivalent to the population of the town of Thun. Currently, 3,483,000 patrons support Rega.
The Rega business year 2018
In 2018, Rega's operating revenue totalled CHF 166.2 million, while the operating expenditure came to CHF 164.1 million. This gave a positive operating result of CHF 2.0 million. The annual result amounted to CHF 2.8 million. In the past year, Rega invested above all in modernising the Rega fleet and in large-scale IT projects. In line with its strategic goals, Rega is almost 100 percent self-financed and does not need outside capital to finance its investments.
Zurich-Airport, 17 April 2018
Swiss Air-Rescue Rega took delivery of the first of its three new Bombardier Challenger 650 ambulance jets. The new Rega jet is an enhanced version of the current fleet and brings various improvements for both patients and crews. At today’s Annual Media Conference, Rega looked back over the past year: with 15,958 missions, Rega was in greater demand than ever before, both at home and abroad. This figure is equivalent to one mission every 33 minutes.
Coinciding with the Annual Media Conference, Rega's new Challenger 650 ambulance jet from the Canadian manufacturer, Bombardier, landed today at 11.20 am at Zurich Airport and was greeted with a traditional water salute by the airport fire service. The jet with the registration number HB-JWA is the first of a total of three new ambulance jets that will join the Rega fleet by the end of 2018. For Rega CEO, Ernst Kohler, this represents an investment in the future: "The new Rega jet is one of the most modern civil ambulance aircraft worldwide. We are thus ensuring that in the coming years, too, Rega can continue to come to the aid of its patients all over the world in a reliable and professional manner." Rega will complete this project on time and within the 130 million Swiss franc budget.
Challenger 650: next chapter in the success story
The Challenger 650 is an updated model of Rega's current three Challenger CL-604 jets, which have now been in operation in the service of the Swiss population for 16 years - longer than any other jet fleet in Rega's history. The interior and medical equipment of Rega's ambulance jets are custom-made: a project team comprising Rega pilots, medics and engineers, in collaboration with external specialists, has spent the last four years designing the new cabin fit-out. The modifications draw not only on experience gained with the predecessor model, the CL-604, but also on Rega's knowledge and expertise accumulated in the course of almost 60 years of repatriating seriously ill or injured patients.
Patients benefit from improvements in the cabin and the cockpit
With the Challenger 650, patients will benefit not just from wider, multifunctional stretchers and reduced cabin noise, but also from cutting-edge technology in the cockpit. Thanks to the latest navigation and communication instruments, the pilots are now, for example, permitted to use higher altitude flight routes across the Atlantic. Due to the lower air resistance at higher altitudes, the new jet uses less fuel on these routes, which in turn means fewer refuelling stops on long-distance flights. Urs Nagel, Chief Pilot at Rega, explains: "As a result, particularly with long-haul operations, we will be able to fly our patients home faster and in a more cost-effective manner in future". In addition, a new weather radar increases safety during missions, and an infrared camera makes it possible to fly to airports in worse weather conditions than at present - a great advantage in terms of safety for Rega's jet pilots, who fly to more than 400 different airports in all corners of the globe every year.
Rega organises the repatriation of over 1,200 patients every year
Rega crews bring people who have become seriously ill or injured abroad back to Switzerland with Rega's three own ambulance jets or on board a commercial airline. The medical crew in the Rega jet always comprises at least one flight physician and an intensive care flight nurse. Last year, Rega repatriated 1,249 patients, 901 of them in one of its three ambulance jets. Rega's Operations Centre arranged for 348 patients to be transported on a scheduled flight - for example, accompanied by a Rega flight physician or intensive care flight nurse.
New fleet - new livery
Rega is currently also modernising part of its helicopter fleet: six new Airbus Helicopters H145 helicopters are to replace Rega's EC 145 lowland fleet by mid-2019. They will be joined in 2021 by three AW169-FIPS all-weather rescue helicopters. Rega is also taking this opportunity to update the Rega logo, which is now over 20 years old. The new Challenger 650 ambulance jet with the registration number HB-JWA is the first of Rega's aircraft to receive this new livery.
Review of the Rega year 2017:
Rega came to the aid of on average 29 patients per day
Rega can look back on a busy year: in 2017, the Operations Centre organised a total of 15,958 missions (+5.7 %). Both the rescue helicopters and the ambulance jets were in the air more frequently than in the previous year: the Rega flight coordinators organised 11,774 helicopter missions (+6.5 %) and 886 operations with its own ambulance jets (+3.3 %). With 10,788 patients (+7.1 %) in all, the Rega crews came to the aid of on average 29 people per day. See the press release on the 2017 mission numbers dated 20 February 2018.
60,000 new patronages in 2017
Thanks to the support of its patrons, Rega, as a non-profit, privately run foundation, is able to provide nationwide medical assistance by air - without receiving any subsidies from the State. In 2017, Rega once again enjoyed growing support: on 31 December 2017, a total of 3.43 million patrons were recorded on Rega's computer system. This represents an increase of around 60,000 new patronages or 1.8 percent compared to the previous year. Last year, patrons paid 63 percent of the overall costs with their annual contributions and donations. The remaining amount was principally covered by cost bearers, such as insurers, in the form of payments for missions performed on their behalf.
Zurich-Airport, 6 April 2017
Rega is the first civil air-rescue organisation worldwide to use a laser-based obstacle warning system – ensuring even greater safety for its patients and crews. On the occasion of its Annual Media Conference, Rega also looks back over a busy year: more than 15,000 missions and an ever growing number of patrons show that Rega is both needed and valued.
In order to further heighten the safety of patients and crews during missions, in collaboration with helicopter manufacturer Leonardo, Rega is testing a laser-based system to automatically detect obstacles to aircraft. The sensor unit continually scans the area in front of the helicopter using a laser and can recognise even thin cables and masts up to two kilometres away. An acoustic signal warns the pilot of obstacles, which are also presented both on a screen in the cockpit and on a head-up display in the pilot’s field of view. The main advantage over passive warning systems, which draw on data from an aviation obstacle database, is that this system also warns of obstacles that are not marked on any maps or charts.
Test flights in the mountains in spring 2017
Rega’s operational area is characterised by a demanding topography and a great many aviation obstacles. Now, joint test flights performed together with the manufacturer set out to show how precisely and reliably the system – which is already being successfully deployed on a number of military helicopters – functions in mountain valleys with an abundance of obstacles, such as cable lifts and wires used by farmers for transporting hay. The test flights are to take place in northern Italy this spring in collaboration with the helicopter manufacturer, Leonardo, with a view to adopting the system in the three new AW169-FIPS all-weather rescue helicopters from 2021. Rega CEO Ernst Kohler says: “At Rega, the safety of our patients and crews is of top priority. We are constantly striving towards making improvements and further increasing safety. And we go to great lengths to achieve this, whether in the form of staff training courses, in our organisational set-up or, as in this case, in the deployment of cutting-edge technology.”
Video laryngoscope: a camera to provide a clearer view
In the field of medicine, too, Rega is employing state-of-the-art technology to improve the medical care it provides to its patients. For example, crews are now equipped with a video laryngoscope for securing a patient’s airway. On the tip of the spatula, next to the light source, is a tiny camera, which transmits signals to a small monitor. This device for image-guided intubation has been in use in Swiss hospitals for a number of years. Now Rega has at its disposal a technically more advanced, robust, mobile video laryngoscope that can also be used outside the hospital in adverse weather conditions. As a result, not only the physician performing the intubation, but also the paramedic or intensive care flight nurse assisting, have a clear view of the procedure via the images on the monitor. The crew from the Rega helicopter base in Berne successfully tested the device over the course of a year on rescue missions. They even took it out in bright sunlight and snow to check whether the image on the display is still easy to see. The new video laryngoscope will soon be standard equipment on board the Rega fleet.
Once again more than 15,000 missions in a single year
In 2016, Rega’s Operations Centre organised a total of 15,093 missions, slightly more than in the previous year (+0.3 %). Figures for the helicopter missions were marginally down compared to the year before (11,055, –1.2 %). Generally speaking, the helicopter mission statistics reflect the meteorological conditions and leisure activities of people in Switzerland. Due to the mild and consequently relatively snow-free winter, the Rega helicopters flew considerably fewer missions in the months of January (–4.7 %) and February (–17.6 %) than in 2015. In contrast, the exceptionally sunny September (+18.2 %) led to extremely busy operation days.
Meanwhile, the operations performed by Rega’s three ambulance jets registered a growth: in the course of 858 missions (+4.6 %), a total of 869 patients (+5.3 %) were flown back home to Switzerland from all corners of the globe. The number of patients repatriated on board scheduled aircraft also rose significantly (354, +12 %). This alternative to the ambulance jet is employed provided that the patient’s medical condition is sufficiently stable and that this form of transport is not expected to have a negative impact on the patient or other passengers.
Gratifying development in patronage numbers
Patrons form the very backbone of Rega. With their annual contributions, in 2016 they covered more than 60 percent of the overall costs, thus enabling Switzerland to benefit from an air-rescue system that sets standards and is highly regarded throughout the world. On 31 December 2016, a total of 3.376 million individuals were registered as Rega patrons, representing an increase of around 93,000 persons in comparison with the previous year. Rega CEO Ernst Kohler is grateful for the continuing enormous support within the Swiss population: “Thanks to the solidarity on the part of our patrons, we are able to operate independently of state funding or commercial interests and to place the welfare of our patients at the centre of everything we do.”