A Scottish airline is converting its tiny planes into 'flying ambulances' using sealed pods to transport COVID-19 patients - here's how it works

Loganair air ambulance 1

  • Loganair is working with the Scottish Ambulance Service to convert its Twin Otter aircraft into a flying ambulance to transport coronavirus patients.
  • There will be EpiShuttle single-patient isolation pods aboard the "flying ambulance".
  • EpiShuttles can be configured to either protect the patient in the pod, or protect the pod's surroundings from the patient.
  • Multiple countries are now using EpiShuttles amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Regional Scottish airline Loganair is working with the Scottish Ambulance Service to convert its Twin Otter aircraft into a flying ambulance with isolation pods to transport coronavirus patients.

The European Union-funded "EpiShuttle" single patient isolation pods were created by Norwegian-based EpiGuard to be used in emergency medical transporters like ambulances, helicopters, and airplanes, according to its maker. It can also be used with stretchers and attachments to secure the pod to a transporter, such as Loganair's converted aircraft.Advertisement

The Twin Otter, based out of Scotland's Glasgow Airport, isn't the only Loganair plane that will be converted to transport patients amid the coronavirus pandemic. The airline is now working on a larger Saab 340 aircraft conversion - set to be completed early April - that can fly to all but one highlands and islands airport while carrying two isolation pods and a medical team, according to Loganair.

The Ambulance Service has purchased eight pods, two of which will be used during its first mission on April 3. The other six pods will all be delivered to Scotland by mid-May.

In total, the Scottish Ambulance Service has invested over £500,000, about $619,850, on what its chief executive Pauline Howie has called the "latest available technology."
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"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," Loganair's CEO Jonathan Hinkles said in a statement.

"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," Loganair's CEO Jonathan Hinkles said in a statement.

"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," Hinkles continued.

The EpiShuttle does not have to be disinfected after every use, saving time and money. And as long as the patient is contained in the isolation pod, medical teams do not need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), according to EpiGuard.

The EpiShuttle does not have to be disinfected after every use, saving time and money. And as long as the patient is contained in the isolation pod, medical teams do not need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), according to EpiGuard.

The EpiShuttle isolation pod has two configuration options: protect the patient in the pod, or protect the pod's surroundings from the patient.

The pod can be disinfected and assembled in under two hours. To compare, an entire ambulance or aircraft requires between two to four hours of disinfection between every patient transport, according to EpiGuard.

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The EpiShuttle also has an air ventilation system that can generate both positive and negative air pressure. This means all of the air going in and out of the pod is filtered.

The EpiShuttle also has an air ventilation system that can generate both positive and negative air pressure. This means all of the air going in and out of the pod is filtered.

In total, there can be over 15 air exchanges per hour inside the pod, which is around the same as some operating rooms, according to the Health Facilities Management Magazine.

A patient inside of the pod can be intubated, ventilated, and hooked onto IVs and monitoring equipment by using the locked ports around the pod. These ports also allow medical personnel to access the patient's body.

A patient inside of the pod can be intubated, ventilated, and hooked onto IVs and monitoring equipment by using the locked ports around the pod. These ports also allow medical personnel to access the patient's body.

Its see-through polycarbonate hardtop allows for communication between the medical team and the patient.

The ports can also connect to items like sluice bags — to allow medicine, equipment, and food to be channeled into the pod — or waste bags.

In total, a standard EpiShuttle is 58 kilograms, or about 128 pounds, and can hold a 6.5-foot patient that weighs up to 330 pounds.

The pod is powered by a rechargeable 14.4-volt, 1.2-amp-hour lithium-ion battery.

The entire EpiShuttle unit costs around €40,000, about $43,438, according to the DRF Luftrettung.

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Loganair and the Scottish Ambulance Service aren't the only ones to take advantage of the EpiGuard technology.

Loganair and the Scottish Ambulance Service aren't the only ones to take advantage of the EpiGuard technology.

The British Royal Air Force, Royal Norwegian Air Force, Royal Danish Air Force, and German Air Ambulance DRF are also using EpiShuttles now amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to EpiGuard.

Two DRF Luftrettung stations in Germany now have EpiShuttles, according to the DRF Luftrettung. Another eight stations will also soon follow. The Royal Norweigan Air Force has also purchased five pods from EpiGuard, TV2 reported.

Two DRF Luftrettung stations in Germany now have EpiShuttles, according to the DRF Luftrettung. Another eight stations will also soon follow. The Royal Norweigan Air Force has also purchased five pods from EpiGuard, TV2 reported.

Meanwhile, Denmark has already used its two pods to make two patient transport flights, according to the Denmark Ministry of Defense.

Source: DRF Luftrettung, TV2

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