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In all weathers across the air ambulance skies

Posted 02.02.2017

In all weathers: in a short interview, Captain Alex Moog and First Officer Isabel Helmrath tell you more
about their daily life in the cockpit of an air ambulance plane.

How long have you been working for Air Alliance?
AM: I have been working as a captain for Air Alliance for the past six years on worldwide air ambulance flights exclusively.
IH: Since 2012, I have been working for Air Alliance as First Officer, mostly on air ambulance missions, occasionally also on surveying flights.
You are flying worldwide missions. How do you plan wind and weather in advance?
AM: Prior to a mission, we meet at the airport and get the relevant information from our briefing site in the internet.  We have access to all information like the flight routing, fuel consumption, weather and any unique features of all airports and airspace which we will be crossing during the flight.
IH: When flying on international missions, there are, for example, regional „specialties“ like rainy season, monsoon etc. On certain airports there are particular weather conditions, e.g. wind shear in Madeira or ash clouds in Iceland.
Once you are in the air, how do you follow up with the weather conditions?
IH: During the flight, up to date weather info is available via radio, nav-aids, Garmin or sat-phone. On the ground, the handling will prepare weather information for the flight. Internationally, that works really well with the exception of very remote areas, like, for example, small airfields in Africa.
What are the biggest weather challenges during a flight?
AM: For me, the biggest weather challenges are thunder storms, strong wind, tornadoes or icing on the runway. Up to a certain degree, these phenomena can be well assessed and pre-planned. If this is not possible, you always need plan B: have enough fuel in the tank and safe airports in case of diversion. Nonetheless, there are weather conditions in which you simply cannot fly. In this case, you simply need to wait, fly around or not to even take off.
How do you make sure that you have enough fuel in the tank if there is a diversion?
AM: Our documents tell us were precisely how much fuel we will need. The calculation is done based upon current wind and weather models, flight routing and flight altitude in an IT planning system. On top, there are statutory safety margins for additional fuel consumption in case an alternative airport is approached for a potential holding (waiting in the air).
On top, pilots may add extra margins for bad weather or other imponderables.
What is your favorite destination?
AM: Honestly, I could not tell you my favorite destination. There are many fantastic airports in the whole world which I really like to approach. It could be the surroundings, special people, different local cultures and sometimes it is simply better weather when it rains back home. Especially here in the company, I like the varied destinations and daily new challenges on air ambulance flights.
Are there patients with fear of flying and what do you do in such a case?
AM: Yes, there are.  Sometimes, it is the patient, sometimes the companions. In most cases it really helps if we pilots explain to them the details of the flight and what they can expect. This gives them a good impression of the crew in the cockpit who will bring them safely home. Especially with the companions, we notice how fast their fear disappears once they peek into the cockpit: we show them how redundant and safe everything is and they develop trust very fast.
Do you have any special memories from a flight?
AM: Yes, many! For example, when we landed with very strong winds in Iceland and were almost blown away on the icy ground when unloading the patient together with the local fire fighters.  In Algeria we had to wait for hours after a sandstorm became so intense that you could not see the runway anymore.
IH: As a small anecdote, I remember a flight from Lagos/Nigeria via Chad to Mumbai in India. In Mumbai there was monsoon weather. The runway was really wet and after landing, it started raining (tropical) cats and dogs. We could not see the taxiway and longer and had to follow very slowly a Marshall in his Follow-Me-car. Within minutes, all streets were flooded completely. After unloading, we were all soaked to the skin and needed to dry ourselves in the hotel. As a girl from Siegerland, I am pretty much used to heavy rain, but I have never experienced something as intense in my life.