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What Role Could Air Taxis Play in Emergency Response?

Analyzing possible adoption of eVTOLs by the air medical market.

For aviation enthusiasts, the development of air taxis presents an exciting new mobility option, however, for these aircraft to be successful in providing a large impact they need to broaden their appeal. An area that some air taxi companies are targeting to increase their usefulness to a larger population is emergency response.

An October 2020 study from ADAC Luftrettung, a German air rescue service, was conducted with the sponsorship of the non-profit ADAC Foundation, which promotes research and education to prevent accidents. The study found that multicopter aircraft like electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft could be used to improve response time and the cost of operating emergency medical services.

Jump Aero is developing its eVTOL specifically for first responders.

“At Jump Aero, we believe that eVTOL aircraft have the potential to empower first responders to get to the scene of an emergency faster than any other mode of transportation,” Carl Dietrich, founder and president of Jump Aero, told Avionics International. “This capability has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives and over ten billion dollars each year for the insurance industry in the United States alone. The use of aircraft to get first boots on the ground is only done in search and rescue operations today — not traditional first response. Helicopter Air Ambulances are called in when there are already first responders onsite. In this way, Jump Aero is pioneering a new use for aircraft. We are not transporting patients, we are 100 percent focused on rapid transport of a first responder and their critical, life-saving equipment to the scene of the emergency — getting first boots on the ground faster than anything else.”

A depiction of potential suburban-street landing zones for a Jump Aero medical aircraft. Jump Aero

Speed was a factor that motivated ADAC Luftrettung’s study which found that in Germany from 1994 to 2017 the arrival time of doctors to emergency scenes increased by 40 percent. The study also found that patient outcomes were closely tied to the speed at which medical professionals reached them.

“The increasing shortage of emergency doctors is a major challenge for the emergency medical care of the population — especially in rural areas,” Dr. Andrea David, Chairman of the ADAC Foundation, said in a statement.

Jump Aero has developed its aircraft keeping in mind the equation between speed and patient outcomes. Their model will be focused on transporting the emergency professional and their gear to the emergency scene to be able to more quickly help the patient.

“Our aircraft will deploy quickly, and fly faster than other eVTOLs,” Dietrich said. “We are not transporting passengers. We are not transporting cargo. We are simply getting trained professionals (and their equipment) to the scene of an emergency faster than anything else. Our requirements are driven by that priority.”

Volocopter, who participated in the ADAC Luftrettung study, is not targeting emergency response for its initial commercial launch but still sees the opportunity to expand in the area in the future. The study focused on Volocopter’s VoloCity eVTOL model which is a two-passenger aircraft with a range of 35 km.

“Volocopter aims to get first responders to patients faster than by ground ambulance to improve medical care further,” a representative for Volocopter told Avionics. “According to the study by ADAC Luftrettung, when using a multicopter in rescue services, significant improvements had been seen in emergency care for an operating radius of 25 to 30 kilometers. With a Volocopter aircraft, emergency physicians could arrive at the scene of an emergency twice as fast in rural areas compared to a conventional emergency medical service vehicle (NEF) and reach around two to three times as many patients in the area. We are currently not looking at using VoloCity eVTOLs for the transport of patients.”

Volocopter participated in a study that evaluated the use of its Volocity eVTOl pictured here, for use in emergency response operations. Volocopter

Since the study was published, Volocopter has released new aircraft like its VoloDrone. The company said the VoloDrone could be used for public services and emergency relief as well.

“Multicopters/ eVTOL passenger drones like the VoloCity can be used for emergency air rescue by bringing first responders to the accident site, and utility drones like the VoloDrone can be used to support disaster relief or humanitarian aid,” Volocopter said. “The VoloDrone, for example, can be utilized to provide tools and materials to relief workers helping the victims of a natural disaster like a flood or an earthquake. Due to their high payload capacity and long-range, along with the quick battery change, Volocopter eVTOLs can work round the clock to distribute aid to the affected areas in a larger radius no matter the ground conditions.”

Kitty Hawk, the Silicon Valley eVTOL company, is also interested in using its eVTOL, Heaviside, in emergency response. In February, the company announced a partnership with emergency response and healthcare company Falck.

“The agreement with Kitty Hawk takes us to the next level in our commitment to integrate eVTOL aircraft into our ambulance operations,” Jakob Riis, CEO of Falck, said in a statement. “Kitty Hawk brings the technology, while we at Falck contribute with our ambulance service area as a use case. This combination gives us the best conditions to investigate how we can jointly unleash the potential of new technology and develop the ambulance-borne health solutions which are likely to set the standard in the near future.”

Kitty Hawk also recently completed a test with the U.S. Air Force Agility Prime program that focused on emergency services. The exercise--the first operational exercise conducted by Agility Prime—tested how Heaviside could perform medical evacuations, personnel recovery, and logistics.

“This collaborative commercial/DoD use-case exploration revealed common attributes that serve both urban air mobility and search and rescue operations: High-reliability, responsive launch & recovery, minimal logistical footprint, accessibility for mobility-challenged, low acoustic signature, and high levels of autonomy,” Col. Don Haley, Commander of Air Education and Training Command Detachment 62, said in a statement.

Kitty Hawk demonstrates its eVTOL aircraft Heaviside's automated and remote flight capabilities with Agility Prime. Kitty Hawk

While eVTOL companies and emergency responders are studying the use of eVTOLs within these scenarios, they are clear that they would not replace helicopters.

“Our aircraft is not designed for search and rescue (SAR) or humanitarian logistics,” Dietrich said. “We do one thing, and we do that one thing better than anyone else — we get the professional first responder to the scene of the emergency as fast as possible. Helicopters are great tools for SAR and general logistics — typical needs in natural disasters; we are not trying to compete for those CONOPS.”

The ADAC Luftrettung study also agreed that eVTOLs could be an addition to helicopter services and not a replacement. The study found that the best use for early adoption would follow a similar model to Jump Aero’s where the emergency responder was transported to a scene but the aircraft was not used as a patient transport vehicle. It also found that eVTOLs would be ideally used within a 25 to 30 kilometer range.

“The Jump Aero aircraft would be better than a helicopter for rapid deployment to a specific known location where a few minutes is the difference between life and death,” Dietrich said. “I expect that there may be scenarios in natural disasters where our unique capabilities could play a valuable role, but our aircraft is better suited to saving lives in every-day emergency response scenarios: heart attacks, stroke, allergic reactions, car crashes, severe trauma — over three million opportunities a year where a few minutes faster response time can make a huge difference in the outcome for the patient. That is where Jump Aero's unique value will shine.”