Rescuing people anywhere and in all weathers - IFR approach flight
Every year, bad weather currently prevents around 600 people in Switzerland from receiving emergency assistance from the air. Rega wants to change this situation and in future help even more people in distress. It has therefore launched a series of measures that will enable its helicopters to also be able to fly in fog and falling snow.
Thanks to satellite-based navigation, it is now possible to perform flights according to instrument flight rules (IFR) independently of fixed installations on the ground. The Swiss Air Force and Skyguide air navigation service have been working together with Rega for a number of years to develop a countrywide network of instrument flight routes known as the Low Flight Network (LFN) and to implement the corresponding approach flight procedures. When visibility is poor, the helicopter flies by autopilot along a route stored in the on-board computer, rather like on a motorway - a considerable benefit in terms of safety. These IFR flight routes link airports, airfields and in particular hospitals with each other.
On 23 December 2017, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) granted Rega a special authorisation to use key intersections of the LFN around the clock. Rega had already been able to use various sections of the network, but only in the daytime on weekdays - a significant restriction in view of the unpredictable nature of Rega's missions. Further expansion measures are planned to allow the entire LFN to be used at night, as well as to link other hospitals and regions, such as the Engadin, with the network of instrument flight routes. In addition, Rega would like to have unrestricted use of the military approach flight procedures outside normal operating hours.
The objective of Rega's "Icebird" project was to examine the purchase of an all-weather helicopter with a de-icing system. It is currently possible to de-ice above all large helicopters, but they are too big and heavy to land on hospital helipads and at accident sites. Therefore, in collaboration with various helicopter manufacturers, Rega sought ways of being able to also equip helicopters from a lower weight class with de-icing systems. With success: in 2015, Rega signed a contract with Italian manufacturer AgustaWestland to purchase three new AW169-FIPS all-weather helicopters. The AW169-FIPS is a medium-weight, twin-engine helicopter featuring a full ice protection system (FIPS). This means that in future Rega will be able to fly missions in icing conditions, too. In addition, the AW169-FIPS is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics and can perform high-precision instrument flights. The three all-weather AW169-FIPS helicopters are scheduled to go into operation in 2021.
In order to be able to operate all-weather rescue flights, up-to-date meteorological data needs to be available around the clock. Without this information, flights according to instrument flight rules (IFR) are not permitted. Rega's major project "Thor" aims to make more weather data available for helicopter operations. In addition, around 60 new weather stations and webcams have been installed all over Switzerland. However, the project does not just stop at collecting data. It is also investigating ways of transmitting this information directly into the helicopter cockpit - so that our pilots can immediately take advantage of this virtually up-to-the-minute weather data.
In spring 2013, Rega’s new simulator for its AgustaWestland Da Vinci mountain helicopters went into operation, representing a key milestone in Rega’s Vision. In order to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR), helicopter pilots must complete between 400 and 500 hours of intensive theoretical training, as well as a minimum of 55 hours of flight training. All its helicopter pilots fly around 50 training hours in the flight simulator and a further 20 training hours in the helicopter. Even after receiving their IFR licence, Rega pilots (and paramedics) are required to complete corresponding exercises in the flight simulator every three months.
With the installation of new operating devices in all of its helicopters, Rega’s large-scale REMICO project was finally brought to a close at the end of 2014. The project, which has already proved to be a great success, also has a decisive impact on the Rega Vision; the modernised radio network and the operating devices in the helicopters allow a better transfer of data between the Operations Centre and the cockpit. Now the mission coordinates can be transmitted directly into the cockpit. In future, the setting up of Rega’s own weather stations should enable weather data to be transmitted both visually and in code form.
Rega's vision envisages being able to fly a helicopter to any accident site in rough terrain, even in the most adverse weather conditions. This requires systems that allow pilots to "see" risks and obstacles even when visibility is poor. These are known as "synthetic vision systems". Rega had the opportunity to test a system produced by the company, Elbit, on its mountain helicopters in autumn 2014. In addition, within the framework of an EU project, two Rega pilots travelled to England to gain initial experience in the simulator with a so-called "head mounted display". These tests allow a comprehensive evaluation to be made for the possible future use of such systems in Rega helicopters.
Rescuing people despite adverse weather: Rega tests new instrument flight route from the Engadin to Chur