SESAR trials new instrument procedures and safety net for air rescue services
Partners in the SESAR project, PBN Rotorcraft Operations under Demonstration (PROuD), have completed a second set of flight trials in Switzerland showing how satellite-based take-off and landing procedures can enhance helicopter operations for critical emergency services. The Swiss trials specifically demonstrated the benefits of a ground-based safety net and a new instrument flight route (IFR) procedure for improving vital services, such as search and rescue and transporting medical patients.
During the three-day trial, Swiss air rescue (Rega) pilots conducted flights between Engadin airport and Chur hospital in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. A satellite-based approach path monitoring tool for Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) operators was used to monitor the IFR approaches executed by the helicopters, which were equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B).
The new monitoring tool provides AFIS operators with acoustic and visual warnings in case of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) tunnel infringement. In other words, if a helicopter deviates from the path indicated by the procedure, a tower operator can see the aircraft trajectory on a dedicated monitor and, if needed, warn the pilot. The project aimed to show how this low-cost safety net can increase situational awareness in airports and heliports located in safety-critical environments without radar and conventional navigation aids.
The Swiss trial campaign also provided important evidence to support the approval by the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) of the use of IPR procedures by helicopters. Unlike Norway, where IPR procedures have been approved by the regulator, Swiss pilots can currently only fly Visual Flight Rules (VFR). During the trials, the helicopter made use of various measurement devices to record their exact position data throughout the flights. This made it possible to check whether the route could be flown according to IFR with the necessary precision. Initial feedback has been positive, with pilots saying they are confident that these new procedures could improve the performance of search and rescue missions in term of efficiency and safety under adverse conditions. More detailed results will be available once the first data collected is analysed.
Every year, bad weather currently prevents around 600 people in Switzerland from receiving emergency assistance from the air. Project partners want to change this situation and in future help even more people in distress. Among those who will profit from the new routes are people living in the peripheral regions, who, in a medical emergency, can be flown to a central hospital no matter what the weather.
PROuD brings together NLA (Norsk Luftambulanse) the Swiss air rescue (Rega), IDS (responsible for the design of the procedures), Skyguide (the Swiss Air Navigation Services Provider) and Deep Blue (collecting data demonstrating the expected benefits). The helicopter used for the test flights is the Agusta Westland AW109SP, already certified for RNP 0.3 and RNP APCH operations and equipped with ADS-B out capability for the demonstration trials.
PROuD is one of several large-scale demonstration activities co-funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU), the public-private partnership that pools the knowledge and resources of the entire European air traffic management community to deliver innovative solutions for a modernised ATM.