In the world of air medical services, communication is critical, and availability can be the difference between life and death. The Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) estimates that there are over 400,000 rotorcraft dedicated to HEMS activities and 150,000 fixed-wing aircraft for air medical operations in the US alone.
Confidence in your aircraft's readiness and dispatchability is key to effective and efficient operations. AAMS President Richard J. Sherlock put the need for HEMS service in rural America in stark terms. "Since 1990, 22 per cent of America's hospitals have closed. Since 2010, one hospital closes somewhere in America every month, mostly in rural areas." With the rural populations living outside the reasonable distance of a Level 1 or Level 2 trauma center, the need for HEMS operations becomes even more evident.
With this expanding need and growth, flight departments must leverage modern tools to establish the connectivity and efficiency that is so crucial to their daily mission. Technology has grown at a rapid pace, as have business solutions, taking flight departments out of the dark ages of outdated, disconnected, and inefficient tools like spreadsheets and programs working in silos. In 2003, Flightdocs (now a part of ATP) entered the aviation space with the industry's first web-based maintenance tracking platform. Since then, the platform has continued to invest in new technology and has evolved its application significantly – creating a mobile, easy-to-use, real-time platform that not only manages maintenance, but also inventory purchasing, flight operations, and more. ATP’s Flightdocs Maintenance platform has drastically transformed how users manage their aircraft and their day to day operations.
An agile and scalable solution
When developed, the Flightdocs Maintenance application made sure to keep the vast expanse of operations at the forefront of development—understanding that the platform needed to be scalable and reflective of not only traditional charter and corporate flight departments, but that of the on-demand and unscheduled world of air medical operations. This demand meant that the solution needed to be agile, accessible, and real-time, applying to both fixed and rotor-wing aircraft. Alain Vallejo, Maintenance Manager with the air ambulance service REVA, Inc., explained: “We use technology to make sure that our maintenance tracking is up to date with the amount of aircraft that we have. With a growing fleet, it is very easy to miss an inspection item. So, with the help of Flightdocs’ electronic tracking, we can simplify tracking systems to make sure that we are on top, up to date, and in compliance.”
The ability to be real-time and scalable was emphasized in 2016 when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its guidance on electronic record keeping and e-signature with A.C. 120-78A. With this guidance and forward-thinking development of technical architecture, ATP’s Flightdocs platform was able to respond quickly, becoming the first maintenance tracking application to provide a fully functional and compliant automated process for electronic logbooks and e-signature. Vallejo reiterated the importance of accessibility in this aviation field: “We do not want any delays. That is why our maintenance must be up to par and up to date. We cannot have any unforeseen delays.”
A bold move from Hospital Wing
In 2018, US-based air ambulance operation Hospital Wing became the first FAA Part 135 HEMS operator to be approved for entirely paperless operations. Nick King, Hospital Wing’s Director of Maintenance, discussed the evolution of his department from a system of handwritten logbooks and spreadsheets to one where the entire team has embraced the paperless culture. With seven helicopters, 30 pilots, 12 maintenance technicians, and support personnel spread across five bases; his team was desperate for a new approach. “Accuracy and regulatory compliance are vital in our industry, and our paper-driven processes weren't keeping up. It was increasingly time-consuming to complete the necessary documentation and, once completed, the documents were not easily accessible by pilots and technicians for reference,” said King. This need for saving time, combined with increased visibility and communication, brought him to ATP’s Flightdocs platform. Immediately, King saw how the paperless workflow increased the efficiencies of the team and the dispatchability of the aircraft. King also noticed an uptick in morale, and now has a retention rate of 100%.
Focus on operations
In 2019, the operations module was added to the Flightdocs product line. The addition of the flight scheduling and crew management piece broke down silos within departments as the first fully integrated platform, connecting aircraft maintenance, inventory, and flight operations.
“The development of Flightdocs Operations started in early 2018 in response to our customers’ requests for a fully integrated flight department management system. They loved the technology and service we provided for maintenance management and wanted a modern, mobile, real-time solution for flight ops."
Available as a standalone solution, the real value of Flightdocs Operations is the ability to link and integrate internal silos that frequently characterize a flight business organization: maintenance and operations. When in R&D, the Flightdocs team identified two high-level issues they wanted to solve with the development of the new module — breaks in data flow, and disjointed interdepartmental communication, specifically between the crew, the schedulers, and the maintenance team. The Operations module works to eliminate inefficiencies and create real-time visibility into the status of the operation, trip, and aircraft. From a phone or iPad, a pilot can report a discrepancy along with pictures and video of the issue. Stakeholders are notified immediately, and the status of the aircraft is updated. The module comes with a secure, AD encrypted messaging system built into the app, allowing users to communicate without the need for texts, emails, or phone calls. This keeps the communication centralized and prevents details from falling through the cracks.
The paperless workflow adopted through the Maintenance module provides the crew and schedulers with real-time visibility to the airworthiness status, allowing them to plan accordingly. Heine indicated that operators who have moved to a paperless workflow have reported time savings of over 90 per cent, with faster aircraft turnaround times and a significant reduction in data errors. This solution is vital to air medical operations, whose missions cannot afford any mistakes or miscommunication.
With the mission-critical demands of air medical, real-time accessibility and communication are the difference between life and death, ATP understands the criticality of those needs and provides operators with 24/7/365 support. A two-ring policy ensures that Flightdocs operators are immediately assisted at all hours of the day and night, so that no time is lost and maximizes uptime.