In August, Civil Aviation Plant 410, based in Kiev, handed over to the Ukraine National Guard a modernised AN-26 that had been re-equipped to handle ground mission calls in the area of the so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Zone. This was the first new aircraft fielded for this role by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in many years, and it should mark the first step of the major reform, as the country’s officials speak of plans to double the medical aviation fleet over the next couple of years.
The air ambulance department was originally established in Ukraine in 2007 within the healthcare department of the Defence Ministry. It has been operating with six Mi-8 helicopters and a ‘Vita’ plane – a re-equipped and partially modernised AN-26.
There were some reports that the previous Ukraine government headed by Nikolay Azarov was considering establishing the first civil air ambulance operator in 2013. Even if those plans really existed, they were destined to not come to fruition, as after the 2014 ‘Ukrainian Revolution’, with the subsequent annexation of Crimea and an outbreak of fighting in the eastern region, medical aviation was forgotten.
The country’s authorities set their sights on medical aviation again only in 2016. Local news outlet Fakty reported that the current President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on establishing a new air ambulance service in the country.
Although the details of the reform remain unclear, Fakty suggested that the total medical aviation fleet should be increased to 15 machines within a couple of years, including at least three fixed-wing aircraft, in order to meet the country’s internal needs. It is believed that the Ukraine government wants to field a further five planes to carry out international rescue missions, although that part of the plan would be implemented later.
Nikolay Chechetkin, the chairman of the Emergency Service, has revealed that in 2016 the country’s government allocated UAH62 million (US$2.3 million) to expand the medical aviation fleet with the AN-26. He confirmed that this is only the first step in the planned development of the air ambulance system in Ukraine, but did not provide further details.
Sergey Zgurets, director of Defense Express, a local consulting agency, said that prior to 2014, the development of medical aviation was not considered a priority, but things changed with the beginning of the fighting against rebels in eastern regions. The situation substantially increased the attention government officials paid to the air ambulance system. “However, medical aviation in the country is still [in the early stages], although the real demand for rescue aircraft in Ukraine is enormous today,” Zgurets indicated.
Alexander Daniluyk, the spokesperson of the healthcare department of the Defense Ministry, also pointed out that the medical helicopters have saved many lives in the ATO zone. At the same time, he admitted, it is risky to use them since rebels widely use shoulder-carried missile launchers to down any aircraft approaching from areas controlled by government forces.
Civil Aviation Plant 410 is the major repair and maintenance facility in Ukraine’s aviation industry. It is the only company in the country that is authorised to modernise aircraft according to air ambulance service needs. The spokespersons of the facility, however, declined to reveal whether the plant is currently engaged in any new projects in the medical aviation arena.
A first private project
In the meantime, Vadim Gromov says that he is working to launch the country’s first private air ambulance service. The businessman from the Odessa Oblast already owns a modernised AN-2P bi-plane that could be used to transport patients from accident sites to major hospitals in the bigger cities.
“The first plans to establish medical aviation in Ukraine were originally established in Soviet times,” Gromov said. “The places where the aircraft with patients would land were laid out and these plans still can be used to transport people who urgently need help.”
However, the main problem he has to face is associated with the country’s aviation legislation, which doesn’t distinguish ‘small’ commercial aviation from ‘big’ commercial aviation. As a result, to launch a private ambulance service it is necessary to match the requirements set for the huge aviation companies with fleets of Boeings and Airbuses, Gromov said. “This is one of the main reasons why small aviation in Ukraine is virtually not emerging,” he added.△