As a result of the current health crisis, many helicopter operators in Latin America have found themselves at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic and are playing an essential role in supporting their country's efforts to combat the virus. Many operators are providing emergency medical transport for critically ill patients, while some are supporting authorities with the transport of health workers and test kits. Others were also instrumental in distributing food and medicines to the most vulnerable and isolated communities. What they all have in common is their unwavering commitment to supporting their fellow citizens during a difficult and challenging period.
The daily routine of the COA's Air Operations Coordination in Rio de Janeiro has been greatly affected by the crisis. Before the outbreak, COA operations involved transporting the governor and his close associates. With the arrival of the pandemic, the team is now supporting the State Military Fire Brigade to carry out inter-hospital transport of patients with COVID-19 in its H135 helicopter.
To isolate a patient inside the H135's cabin, the COA uses a stretcher with a protective cover that efficiently protects the crew and medical equipment. The device also contributes to reducing the disinfection time of the aircraft between missions.
About 1,200 km south of Rio de Janeiro, in Paraná, the Air Force Battalion of the State Military Police (BPMOA) has also adopted new protocols to protect the crews of its H130 fleet, which are locally called Falcões.
Typically, BPMOA performs a wide variety of missions, such as medical evacuation, search and rescue, police missions and fire fighting. However, in recent months, its entire fleet of helicopters has been designated to support the State Department of Health with the transport of the COVID-19 screening test and H1N1 vaccines to the 399 municipalities in the state, which covers 199,299 sq km.
Covering such a vast territory with the urgency of the crisis has been a challenge for the crew, who also had to quickly adapt the aircraft cabin to deal with new missions. By removing all seats, a spacious cabin has been made available, allowing for the transformation of the helicopter normally used for passenger transport into a cargo helicopter.
In Chile, Naval Aviation is participating in the country's efforts to combat COVID-19 with its Super Puma AS332L, Dauphin AS365 and BO105 fleets. After the health crisis began, it expanded its operations, mainly dedicated to search and rescue and medical evacuation missions, to also include patrol flights and transport of medical personnel and equipment.
In early April, the AS365 helicopter team transported two health professionals from southern Magellan to Puerto Edén, one of the most isolated villages in Chile, on the island of Wellington, near Antarctica, to examine the population and isolate possible cases.
As in many other countries, Chilean health officials have striven to avoid over-saturating hospitals in high-density metropolitan areas such as Santiago. Consequently, the Prefecture of the Air Force of Carabineros, the Chilean police, has been actively carrying out transfers between hospitals with its EC135 helicopters.
One of these missions took place in May, when the Carabineros were called to transfer a patient from the Luis Tisné hospital in the capital Santiago to a hospital in the city of Talca in the Maule region. What would have been a three-hour shore excursion turned into an hour-long flight.
To perform these delicate operations, the Carabineros trained its helicopter teams in the handling of patient isolation devices, which are an effective way to contain the patient's environment and thus reduce the risk of contamination. Very strict protocols have also been implemented to preserve the health of the crew and passengers, such as complete personal protective equipment and improved cabin decontamination.
The health crisis has also seriously affected the business of many commercial helicopter operators. Some of them, such as Ecocopter in Ecuador and Rent a 'Kopter in Panama, have adapted to the situation and refocused their activity in supporting solidarity projects in their respective countries.
Ecocopter Ecuador has collaborated with the Cecilia Rivadeneira Foundation, based in Quito, to transport food, thermometers, masks and other personal protective equipment to vulnerable communities in the Andean city of Ambato and other cities in the north of the country.
Headquartered in Panama City, Rent a 'Kopter's main operation is transporting passengers for business or pleasure, but the restrictive measures adopted by authorities to prevent the spread of the virus have slowed down its activities. In light of current conditions, the company has made its H125 and H130 helicopters available to the Panamanian government and actively participated in the Panama Solidarity Plan, in support of the country's most disadvantaged communities, providing essential supplies and flying more than 80 hours to distant cities.