Safe.Hoist.Operation was the motto of the first International HHO Symposium held by DRF Luftrettung at its Operation Center at the Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden Airport, Germany. Over 70 pilots, technicians, and instructors across Europe, North America, and Australia came together to confront crucial questions including:
- How can safety be improved when using a rescue hoist?
- What developments are shaping the market?
- What new rescue techniques can benefit helicopter crews and patients?
These are questions that roughly 70 pilots, technicians and trainers from Europe, North America and Australia examined as part of 15 technical presentations.
Through extensive networking, discussions, and 15 technical and practical presentations that ranged from high Alpine rescue missions to practical hoist demonstrations from DRF Luftrettung, the symposium concluded that it is is clear that key aspects of HHO are connected to the contrasting demands of quality standards, government requirements, and everyday mission complexity. As such, significant advances in hoist operation safety can be made when operators and manufacturers exchange their practical experiences.
New developments and hoist for the five-bladed H145
Government requirements represent a key cornerstone. The symposium attendees showed great interest in the new master builder regulations for HHO in Europe, which were presented for the first time at the symposium. The regulations are binding for both manufacturers and operators and are considered pioneering for new hoist constructions in Europe.
Innovation and enhancement represent yet a further cornerstone of the bridge between theory and practice, such as the new hoist for the five-bladed H145. Airbus Helicopters, Vincorion, and Collins Aerospace debuted their new hoists at the symposium, each potential candidates for approval and are planned to become available starting in January 2023. CEO of DRF Luftrettung Dr Krystian Pracz stated: “DRF Luftrettung is also following this development with excitement, seeing as we were the first air rescue organization in Europe to put the five-bladed H145 into service in early January 2022.”
From Alpine rescue to flood catastrophe
The symposium also connected government requirements and manufacturer developments to everyday mission practice with technical presentations. One such, held by Mountain Rescue South Tyrol, spoke about the stress factors that crews are confronted with during everyday missions. These include strong temperature differences – often up to 20 degrees Celsius between a helicopter station and a high-altitude Alpine destination. To ensure mission crews are sufficiently equipped for this and other challenges, Mountain Rescue South Tyrol made an appeal to operators to check their gear with this in mind, and that optimizing equipment helps to lower stress levels.
The German Hessen state police’s air wing held a presentation about the flood catastrophe in the Ahr Valley. It showed that the hoist is often the only means to save people’s lives. An emotional silence descended upon the lecture theatre when pilot Stefan Bustert spoke about the extent of the catastrophe and the dramatic rescue of families and children, about touching human stories and about the challenges of the missions. The crucial lesson from these missions was that training and standardization are essential. Finally, DRF Luftrettung, which operates eight helicopters with hoists in Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein together with its subsidiaries, provided a practical insight into its own high standards with an on-site hoist demonstration.
“With all the different presentations and concluding hoist demonstration, we have successfully stimulated a vibrant exchange with practical relevance. Based on that and the exceedingly positive feedback from participants, we wish to maintain this format in the future,” concluded Pracz.
After the symposium, DRF Luftrettung spoke with AirMed&Rescue about its approach to addressing some of the core challenges with safe hoist operations:
The conference sought to confront key safety issues when using rescue hoists. What outcomes were reached at the conference?
Compared to two decades ago, winch operation has become more professional in terms of equipment and crew training, and the official requirements by EASA set the formal framework for safe winch operation in Europe.
However, significant advances in hoist operation safety can only be made together, with operators and manufacturers exchanging their practical experiences – discussing challenges during missions, new rescue tips and techniques. One example are the lessons learned in the flood catastrophe in the Ahr Valley, as discussed at the HHO symposium: standardization and continued training for crews are crucial safety aspects.
DRF Luftrettung introduced a completely new aspect in its presentation, ‘Continue a new level of decision’. Jörg Redetzky, Head of Training at DRF, described the Continue Process, which includes transferring safety procedures known to all helicopter operators from the performance class 1 procedures into Helicopter Hoist Operation. The crew needs a decision guideline if the engine fails in this situation. Also, the countdown procedure applies here; at the moment of engine failure, it is crucial to carry out clear, defined behavior in order to represent the highest level of safety.
Mountain Rescue South Tyrol encouraged equipment checks specifically with the aim of lowering stress levels. Can you provide more detail on how this approach was decided on, and how it was determined that equipment checks could help?
In his presentation, Walther Traversa, Hoist Instructor at Mountain Rescue South Tyrol, spoke about the stress factors that crews are confronted with during everyday missions. His focus was about reducing stress factors to increase safety during missions.
One of these factors, for example, is strong temperature differences – often up to 20 degrees between a helicopter station and a high-altitude Alpine destination, and we need to ensure mission crews are sufficiently equipped for this and other challenges.
Traversa made an appeal to operators to check their gear, arguing that optimizing equipment lowers stress levels. External influences such as heat and cold have a negative effect on the pressure of the HHO-TC within the Helicopter Hoist Operation (cognitive multi-tasking operation). In this context, they act as stressors that may have a negative impact on the probability of occurrence of errors within this high-risk operation.
Traversa did the casework with a psychologist from Airbus Italy. His conviction is based on the well-being factor of the HHO-TC during the winch operation, asserting that the HHO-TC will be better able to concentrate without expending mental resources, which is also a positive factor in Crew Resource Management.