Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay was joined by Monroe County Board of County Commissioners to formally sign the paperwork for three new Leonardo AW139 helicopters at the Sheriff's Office aviation hangar at the Florida Keys Marathon International airport. The incoming medium twin-engine AW139s will replace the Trauma Star emergency helicopter transportation programme's Sikorsky S76 fleet over the next two years.
“These new aircraft can fly two patients, medical equipment, medical staff and pilots comfortably from the Dry Tortugas to Miami without the need to refuel, and do it quickly at 190 mph, a vital point when lives are on the line,” says Ramsay. “This programme is crucial to the safety of our residents and visitors alike, and the AW139 helicopters are the right aircraft for the job.”
The difficulty in finding parts for the three Sikorsky S76 helicopters was one of the factors in the decision to acquire newer, manufacturer-supported AW139. The AW139 will increase operating cost efficiency and reduce downtime due to unscheduled maintenance.
The AW139s will be delivered from Leonardo's FAA-certified Part 21 production facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between the end of 2024 and early 2025, after which they will undergo dedicated mission customisation before replacing the County's existing fleet.
“An extensive search for a replacement aircraft was made to update Trauma Star's ageing fleet of Sikorsky S76 aircraft with a newer, manufacturer-supported aircraft. The goal was an aircraft that would increase operating cost efficiency and reduce downtime due to unscheduled maintenance. The AW139 is the only aircraft available that will meet Trauma Star's mission profile, able to fly the distance, carry our payloads and utilise our current landing zones,” says Ramsay.
Trauma Star crews annually fly approximately 1,400 missions over greater distances than most other air ambulance programmes. For perspective, the national average for similar programmes is 264 patients a year, according to the FAA and the Association of Air Medical Services. The Trauma Star average is more than five times that amount.
The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners approved the approximately $52 million acquisition of the helicopters in March 2023 as part of the county's infrastructure fund, which is generated from a one cent sales tax.
The AW139 is an aircraft of choice for EMS and search and rescue missions across the globe as well as locally; Miami-Dade's air ambulance programme utilises the AW139 as well as other public emergency responders in Florida and across the country.
The current three Trauma Star helicopters operate out of two bases: Florida Keys Marathon International airport and Lower Keys Medical Center on Stock Island.
The Trauma Star programme is a partnership between the Sheriff's Office and Monroe County Fire Rescue. The Sheriff's Office staffs the pilots and mechanics while the flight nurses and flight paramedics are staffed by Fire Rescue.
Monroe County is the southernmost county in Florida and the US, and includes Key West, Marathon, Key Colony Beach, Layton and Islamorada. The County is spread across 3,737sqm, 73 per cent of which is water, and includes large portions of the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.
“We are honoured to begin our long-term partnership with Monroe County, and we are confident that the AW139 will provide Trauma Star with the capabilities it needs to safely and effectively rescue and transport patients in southern Florida,” says Leonardo CEO Clyde Woltman.