Henley Air started in 1995 as a helicopter charter operation and flight school. The business expanded into various other facets over the years and attracted the attention of a medical group in 2015. Having established a large fleet of Bell 222UT air ambulances, experienced flight crew and an adequate spares inventory, Henley Air decided to launch its own HEMS offering. Rapid On Call Emergency Transport (ROCKET) HEMS was born on 1 July 2020 as an independent and neutral service with bases in Johannesburg and Kimberley (Northern Cape Province). The service is fully funded by the shareholders.
“The benefit of a hands-on approach in dealing with the entire operations, getting closer to the patient and their best possible care and the fact that we own our fleet are determinants in providing a highly competitive edge,” explained Andre Coetzee, CEO of Henley Air.
As a non-aligned HEMS provider, Henley Air offers its helicopter ambulance service to key hospitals in the country and has been involved in numerous lifesaving missions. For example, at the beginning of the year, Henley Air rescued a young boy injured in a motorcycle accident in Swaziland, a neighbouring country land-locked by South Africa. With no facilities around the area, Henley Air was able to stabilize the patient and transport him to a suitable facility.
Another critical patient was flown over 900 nautical miles with a broken back, rescued from a remote hiking location, to a hospital equipped to support his needs. Henley Air pilots supported said mission by flying over four South African provinces in a 10-hour mission.
Access to quick and reliable services
Henley Air pilots typically work a 12-hour shift starting at either 06:00 or 18:00 hrs and comprise of experienced and qualified personnel in South Africa. All pilots must conform to six-monthly Operator Proficiency Checks, annual line checks and licence revalidations, ensuring that Henley Air keeps the standard of its operations at the highest level.
Boeta Dippenaar, Chief Pilot, said: “Henley Air has partnered with some of the biggest hospital chains in South Africa. As an independent HEMS provider, we are hopeful that our services will be used to help people in the country that are looking for access to quick and reliable emergency services. We have ensured that our fleet maintains a 98-per-cent serviceability rate, meaning that we are on hand to meet all our patients needs in the shortest amount of time.”
Emergency services are categorized depending on their level of importance. For instance, Henley Air was requested to fly out to a remote area of the country to aid a patient who had been in an accident. Alternatively, the fleet has been used for transportation of a patient from one hospital to another in need of the appropriate medical care. Given the vast area of South Africa and the distances between some hospitals, inter-hospital transfer are not uncommon.
Training pilots with Bell 222 flight simulator
Henley Air owns the only Bell 222 flight simulator in the world. It ensures that flight crews receive initial and recurrent training, incorporating evidence-based training and OJT programmes. A medical simulator is in the final throes of being commissioned to allow new paramedics to experience actual exposure to a complete Bell 222 airframe, medical equipment configurations and usage. Henley Air, in association with Alpha One Zero in the UK, has also been instrumental in developing and funding Heli/Crew/Manager, a web-based helicopter operations management platform. A further innovation is an in-house product, ROCKET Connect, which assists the farming and rural communities to access much needed critical care through an app-based panic button and interactive patient care.
“In addition to working with some of the most prominent names in the country, Henley Air also boasts the only South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) approved and certified Bell 222 simulator. As the only one in the world, it keeps our crews fully prepared for any situation and/or mission. This coupled with a sizeable inventory of spare parts ensures that we can be up and running in the least amount of time to serve any kind of patient,” added Dippenaar.
Looking to the future, Coetzee was optimistic about Henley Air’s continued influence: “We hope to expand our existing offering and footprint into other regions within South Africa and neighbouring countries. Our focus remains on a patient-centric approach in providing the quickest and most appropriate care to the patient.”