Senegalese operator Arc en Ciel Aviation is looking to expand its medevac service in west Africa, and is entertaining the possibility of flying patients to and from Europe. Chief pilot Guillaume Nicot, who has been flying for the company for four years, says there are no other operators in the region providing such a service. “We haven't chosen medevac, but rather it has chosen us,” he remarks. “When Arc en Ciel was a young company, just designed for air taxi operations, we received some requests to perform medevac. It was not our first target, but in fact, no operator existed in this sector at that time.”
Dakar's well-developed medical facilities, knowledgeable health professionals and emergency provider SOS Medecin have all contributed to the smooth running of the service. Nicot believes that his colleagues have gained vital knowledge about west and north African nations during their duties. Pre-medevac, the company initially flew a Piper Archer II and Seneca II. It then used a Piper Navajo for a number of years: “The Navajo had a good range and was perfectly designed to execute this kind of mission,” says Nicot. “The problem was the fuel: Avgas was available 10 years ago, but right now its availability is more scarce.”
Around six years ago the fleet was updated with a Cessna Grand Caravan. This principally performed mining missions and, amid increasing medevac requests, the company leased a Beech 90 for one year in 2010. In 2011, the aircraft roles changed once more: “The Beech 90 was sold by its owner and we lost the mining contract, so the Cessna Caravan was commissioned to take the medevac sector.
“The Caravan is a good aircraft to perform this kind of mission. It can accommodate two patients in stretchers plus two medics and five other passengers. It is capable of a range of 350 nm each way in accordance with EASA IFR, can land on very soft runways in all conditions, and is a simple aircraft in terms of flying and maintenance.”
However, Nicot adds: “The only problem with this aircraft is the speed, which is only 150 kts at long range. Long missions to distant destinations are not possible, and that is why we had look for another aircraft.”
Arc en Ciel then began its search for a Beech 200C with large cargo doors, but found the available aircraft to be too old, in poor condition and at a high price. A Piper PA42 Cheyenne III emerged as the strongest contender. “The Cheyenne III was absolutely designed for our requirements. It is able to fly a 1,600 nm trip at 250 kts in true airspeed. That is why we purchased this aircraft,” Nicot explains.
Following certification, mechanic and pilot training, the Cheyenne entered service in August 2012. The company is now able to fly Dakar to Niamey in less than five hours. Nicot says that it is a pleasure to fly: “From the point of view of a pilot, it's a lovely aircraft. We can perform a 14-hour mission, including 10 hours total flight time and a range of 2,750 nm, with no problems at all.”
He now utilises the Caravan for bush missions, and is able to connect the aircraft with the Cheyenne III when longer transfers are required.
The possibility of extending the service from west Africa into Europe is now being explored, and he confesses that a larger jet would be desirable if the economics were viable: “With our Cheyenne, it only takes eight hours of flight time and one technical stop to connect to Paris from Dakar.
“Most of our staff would like to see us invest in a Falcon 900 or 50EX. These aircraft are fantastic but if they are spending the majority of their time in the hangar we will be unable to offer a competitive price.
Nicot concludes: “We will see how things progress. If the new project is working, we will look to invest.”