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Multicopters for emergency medical services

Multicopters for emergency medical services

September 23, 2022

How eVTOL can revolutionize the emergency and medical service sector

Read in our interview with Frédéric Bruder and Aaron Erd from the ADAC Luftrettung on the possibilities how electric vertical take-off and landing aircrafts (eVTOL) in emergency and medical service (EMS) operations can provide greater human benefit to the public in developed as well as emerging markets.

The first study to examine the global market potential of eVTOLs for use in EMS has just been published. Are you surprised by how big the potential in this area is forecast to be?

Frédéric Bruder: First of all, we are very pleased that this study has been published. Before this, all the public and professional debate around eVTOLs was focused on air taxis as the main application. Looking at the numbers for a potential worldwide deployment of the technology in EMS was an important step. Particularly given the results of the EASA's study on the societal acceptance of urban air mobility in Europe last year. That clearly showed that society is by far most accepting of this new technology being used in healthcare use cases. The results of our own feasibility study, which we conducted with a focus on EMS in Germany, also confirm the strong potential for patient care applications. The findings of your market study are therefore in line with what we expected. The potential for eVTOLs in emergency medical services will certainly also apply to other regions of the world. And for developing and emerging nations in particular, eVTOLs could allow them to leapfrog right over the helicopter stage in EMS use cases.

"The study found that there is potential for up to 250 multicopters to be used in Germany to get emergency doctors to the scene of an accident fast."
Portrait of Frédéric Bruder
Managing Director, ADAC Luftrettung gGmbH

As the ADAC's air ambulance service, you focus particularly on the benefits of multicopters for EMS in Germany and you presented the world's first feasibility study on this use case in late 2020. How high is the demand for eVTOLs in Germany?

Frédéric Bruder: The ADAC's emergency medical service/ADAC Luftrettung gGmbH sees itself as an innovator in the EMS space. Indeed, in putting the first public air ambulance into service in Germany in 1970, the ADAC set a milestone. And we want to do the same again now. In our multicopter feasibility study, we took a very close look at current and future needs within emergency medical services. We asked Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich's world-renowned institute for emergency medicine and management in medicine (INM) to analyze real-life data from an entire year of EMS deployments in the German states of Bavaria and Rhineland-Palatinate, and they developed and evaluated simulation scenarios based on this data. Importantly, one thing this study did was identify the actual technical and operational specifications that eVTOLs need to meet. If those are met, the study found that there is potential for up to 250 multicopters to be used in Germany to get emergency doctors to the scene of an accident fast.

What did the study conclude that the optimal EMS multicopter must be able to do in order to improve emergency medical care for patients in Germany?

Aaron Erd: The three keywords are range, payload and availability. In order to transport an emergency doctor to the scene of an emergency fast, multicopters must be able to fly a range of at least 150 kilometers. And they need to be able to do that with the EMS mission profile of multiple takeoffs and landings, since it is usually not possible to return to base after each mission. And if eVTOLs are also to be used for patient transport sometime in the future, the range will have to be much greater. The same applies to the payload. 300 kilograms is okay to transport an emergency doctor. But to include patient transport, much higher performance data will be required. And then we come to availability: eVTOLs in the EMS space must be able to operate 24 hours a day. And in virtually all weather conditions.

And when will the first multicopter for EMS use be able to go into real-world operation?

Aaron Erd: This question is top of mind for us too. Basically, it's still an research and development project at the moment. Currently, we plan to start a pilot with our partner Volocopter in 2024/2025. The first commercial operation of a VoloCity air taxi is scheduled to take place simultaneously with the 2024 Olympic Games. We hope to be able to launch not long after that. It all depends on when the necessary type certification can be obtained. The two big issues right now are technology and regulation. EMS use cases are not the same as air taxi use cases. The technical, operational and regulatory requirements are higher. We need to close this gap together with our partner Volocopter, which means a great deal of hard work on both sides.

"We will start our first pilot routes and use cases together with our partner Volocopter in 2024/2025."
Portrait of Aaron Erd
Vice Division Manager Strategy and Projects, ADAC Luftrettung gGmbH

You mentioned a pilot project. How exactly do you envisage that and what insights do you hope to gain from it?

Aaron Erd: We will be procuring two VoloCity multicopters for our pilot project. They're already reserved. As soon as they are delivered, we will fly our first flight missions in two test regions (Bavaria and Rhineland-Palatinate). We will ramp up to real-world operation in stages, starting with simulated missions, followed by what we're calling a dual deployment concept and ending with real-world missions for the respective rescue coordination centers. We estimate that the pilot phase will last about two years. In the course of that, we hope to gain further fundamental insights into the use of eVTOLs in emergency medical services. A lot of it has already been worked out thanks to what we've done, and a lot more knowledge is going to come out in the flight tests and so on in the period to start in 2024/2025. But it's only in real-world use with a pilot and emergency doctor on board that the robustness and actual operational capability of these new aircraft will become apparent. Because we mustn't forget that EMS is surely the type of flight that makes the highest demands on people and technology. No doubt about it, eVTOL is a promising technology and offers immense potential for EMS in particular and healthcare in general. Testing this potential and making it usable within a reasonable timeline is the stated goal of our project.

What hurdles do you still have to clear before you can achieve this ambitious goal?

Frédéric Bruder: We have already alluded to it in our previous answers – the biggest hurdle from our point of view is currently the technology. Aircraft like the VoloCity are sufficient for pilot operations. This makes it possible to achieve proof of concept, which is our goal by 2025/2026. But what comes after that? How fast will the technology evolve? As far as we are concerned, it is clear that alternative power concepts, such as hybrid-electric propulsion, are needed. This is where the manufacturers come in. Whichever manufacturer can offer a concept with a reasonable range for use in emergency medical services will win the race in the EMS space. We are well on track with our partner Volocopter. The Innovation Award ("Innovationspreis Reallabore") that our project recently won from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action gives us confidence that the EMS use case is also being recognized and supported to an increasing degree on a political level.

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