Loganair and the RAF yesterday (Wednesday 1 April) published the first pictures of what medical evacuation facilities for islanders will look like during the Covid-19 epidemic.
And the capability to airlift patients from any Western Isles location to a mainland hospital, using individual Epipod isolation units, is expected to be operational by tomorrow (Friday 3 April).
The announcement from Loganair came after a detailed response from Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman to a question asked at Holyrood by na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan, on plans to boost patient transport during the current
emergency. (Read the full story here.)
Loganair subsequently issued a statement which said: “Loganair can confirm it is working closely with the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) to provide air ambulance capability - as the service faces the unprecedented challenges borne by the Covid-
“A Loganair Twin Otter aircraft has been converted into an additional air ambulance aircraft, allowing it to carry Epishuttle isolation pods for the safe carriage of Covid-19 patients by air.
“As the Cabinet Secretary for Health outlined in her statement today, more of these pods have been acquired and will be in service soon.
“The Loganair aircraft will be based at Glasgow Airport but can operate throughout Scotland. Loganair pilots will be operating the aircraft as usual, and late last week, all received a special briefing from the airline and the Scottish Ambulance Service on the nature of the deployment.
“Work has continued in Loganair's Engineering and Flight Operations teams at Glasgow over the weekend and into this week to ensure full readiness of the aircraft ahead of full mission readiness from Friday 3 April.
“Loganair is also now working to convert a larger Saab 340 aircraft, capable of operating into all Highlands and Islands airports apart from Barra, to become an air ambulance with the capability to carry two Epishuttle pods and accompanying
medical teams simultaneously. It is expected this aircraft will be available within the next seven days.
“Barra, with its unique beach airport, will be served by the smaller Twin Otter.”
Loganair's Chief Executive Jonathan Hinkles said: "The team effort to make this happen, moving from a concept to an operational solution in just a week, has been absolutely incredible. Between the SAS and Loganair teams, the concept, testing
and training has all taken place and we're also grateful for the support from the Civil Aviation Authority in progressing this project.
"Although the circumstances under which all of this work has been undertaken are ones that we'd never have wished to see, I'm heartened that the effort which has gone into this is truly admirable. We will support the Scottish Ambulance Service, the
NHS and the island communities who rely on Loganair for their lifeline air services if and when our assistance is needed."
The Royal Air Force also yesterday shared images of training at RAF Kinloss, in which ambulance and RAF personnel trialled the loading of epishuttle pods into one of the RAF Puma helicopters now standing by to support Highlands and Islands
The RAF statement said: “The Scottish Ambulance Service has trialled the use of the EpiShuttle to enable the safe and swift transportation of patients to emergency care facilities across the country. The RAF Pumas are on standby to assist with air
transportation if required and have previously undertaken medical evacuation roles in operational theatres.
“At critical care team bases in Glasgow and Aberdeen, the Puma crews worked with dozens of personnel from the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Emergency Medical Retrieval Service and NHS Scotland to trial the loading of the EpiShuttle and the
associated medical crew and equipment onto a Puma helicopter.”
Pauline Howie, chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: “The fight against COVID-19 has required the NHS to think differently and to move at pace. By adapting our approach and using this latest available technology, we are
taking swift action in the best interests of patients and our hardworking staff - whilst increasing our capacity.
“The introduction of epishuttles will increase the range of options available to us as a Service as we deal with COVID-19 cases, particularly for rural and island communities.
“I’d also like to thank our colleagues at Transport Scotland, Loganair and the RAF who have offered fantastic assistance to us through aircraft and staff. It has been a real team effort and means we have the full range of resources available to us to enable us to react to any situation as we continue to help communities across Scotland in the months ahead.”
Pictures show Loganair’s Saab aircraft as refitted for epishuttle transport and the Twin Otter which is also suited to Barra’s beach landing (Loganair) and the team from Scottish Ambulance and RAF Kinloss training on loading an epishuttle into an RAF Puma helicopter (RAF).