Air Evac Lifeteam is now the largest air medical company to complete the implementation of Night Vision Technology at all of its air ambulance bases. Air Evac Lifeteam, the largest independently-owned and operated air medical service in the United States, operates 92 bases in 14 states.
Air Evac Lifeteam President and CEO Seth Myers said completion of the NVG implementation shows the commitment of Air Evac Lifteam's employees and management to safety.
"The company embraced this risk mitigation tool as another way to keep our employees and patient's safe," Myers said. "The two and a half-year implementation process required a great deal of time in training, aircraft modification and equipment purchases - a more than $7 million investment in safety."
Air Evac Lifeteam received approval in 2007 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use ANVIS-9 goggles, manufactured by ITT Technologies, as part of its operations. Training began with the company's eastern Kentucky bases along the Cumberland Mountain range that fall. Three years later, the company's entire fleet of Bell 206 LongRanger Helicopters have been modified for NVGs, and all of its flight crew members have completed a comprehensive, FAA-approved NVG training program.
Safety is what prompted the company-wide commitment to the goggles, said Chief Pilot Tim Fulton, who oversaw the company's NVG training. With Air Evac Lifeteam crews spending approximately 30-40 percent of their flight time on evening flights, the company wanted an additional safety tool when spotting terrain, obstructions, or looking for a suitable landing zone. The ANVIS-9 goggles were just that tool, Fulton said, with the state-of-the-art goggles raising vision to 20/20 from the normal nighttime vision of 20/200.
Despite this enhancement, Fulton points out NVGs are not replacements for pilot caution, skill and training. Rather, the goggles provide what he calls an "edge" for the pilots. "They are certainly not a cure all, but they are a tremendous help with difficulties such as mountainous terrain and reduced visibility. They are also very useful in avoiding wire or power line strikes, and even seeing ducks or geese near the aircraft."
Fulton and Senior Director of Flight Operations Tony Bonham both emphasize that crews are trained to accept flights that are deemed safe even without the NVG'S. "We don't want them flying in unsafe or hazardous conditions, because the goggles are meant to enhance their safety, not provide a false sense of security," said Bonham. "We want the goggles to reduce the stress level of flying at night, which is a necessary skill in the helicopter EMS world."
Fulton agreed, stating that "safety has always been paramount in this company as we work to create the safest working environment possible for our crews and patients. Night vision technology is part of this equation.
Initially, Air Evac Lifeteam contracted with Aviation Specialties Unlimited in Boise, Idaho to train crew members from eight of its bases before establishing its own, FAA-approved NVG training program.
Air Evac Lifeteam's training was done concurrently at three different locations throughout the central United States. Fulton oversaw this training, and Duane Clark served as the NVG Training Supervisor and organized training for all the bases. Pilots and Medical crew received both classroom instruction and actual flight training.
The company's Maintenance professionals also proved invaluable by reconfiguring the entire fleet of Bell 206 LongRanger helicopters to meet NVG compatibility of company pilots to evaluate both terrain and current weather systems, all in support of Air Evac's lifesaving mission.
Bonham pointed out the NVG project was truly a company-wide commitment, crediting the Maintenance professionals, the company's 13 check airmen and six instructors providing the NVG training and, the medical crew members at the bases for readjusting their schedules to ensure their presence during NVG training. "They are the ones that have done all the work to make this come together so smoothly," said Bonham. "All the credit goes to them."