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Emerald Pacific Dives Into Major Taiwan Contract to Improve EMS Flights

Posted 3 years 19 days ago ago by Admin

Taiwan is taking a major dive into improved emergency health care access for its outer-island residents with state-of-the-art Leonardo AW169 multi-purpose helicopters, and Emerald Pacific Airlines is the biggest partner in that effort.

It's a huge dive for Emerald Pacific as well, since it has transitioned from a company that focused on electrical grid maintenance using Bell 206 helicopters to one that focuses on ferrying critically ill patients in larger and more powerful AW169s that cost 10 times more.

"The transition from the B206 to the AW169 is a very big job," related James Lee, chairman of the board at Emerald Pacific, aka EPAIR Taiwan.

EPAIR was founded in 1994 when the Taiwan government adopted an open sky policy. It wasn't easy, as five other companies that tried the same idea ended up going bankrupt, Lee recalled. EPAIR rose above the others with a team effort, aided by the decision to buy new Bell 206B-3s instead of the Kawasaki BK 117s that other companies were able to purchase half-off because of a lingering Japanese economic bubble. EPAIR started out doing aerial photography and ag chemical spraying, then in 1999 moved to a focus on repair and maintenance of electricity transmission systems. EPAIR engineers patented and upgraded a spray washer structure that attaches to helicopters to wash insulators on high-voltage transmission lines, and that helped keep the company profitable. Flying five Bell Jet Rangers, EPAIR was the only company doing transmission line work in Taiwan for 19 years, Lee said. 

Credit to the local legislator

The local government representative's efforts were key to Taiwan's Executive Yuan decision to privatize air ambulance services. The Taiwan Ministry of Health and Welfare awarded a 10-year contract to EPAIR to provide services for the islands of Penghu and Matsu using three Leonardo AW169 helicopters, while choosing Executive Aviation Taiwan to provide services on the Kinmen islands flying Embraer Phenom 300 jets.

The new private air ambulance services were launched in August 2018 with much fanfare after EPAIR leased the three AW169s from Waypoint Leasing based in Ireland. In a well-publicized ceremony, Taiwan Premier Lai Ching-te noted that he especially understood the need to improve air ambulance services on the outlying islands because he is a physician who served in the military on Kinmen. The Taiwan National Airborne Service Corps (NASC) would continue to provide backup services, the premier said during the ceremony. 

It took EPAIR an entire year to obtain its air operator's certificate, Lee related. EPAIR stationed one AW169 on Penghu, one on Matsu and one on the main island of Taiwan. EPAIR's headquarters are located at the Taichung International Airport in Taichung City, on the western side of the main island. The 24/7 cost-efficient services mark a new era for civilian helicopter operations. 

For its air ambulance service, EPAIR continued its long-standing tradition of hiring former Taiwanese military pilots. It sent 18 ATPL pilots and 12 mechanics to earn AW169 type ratings from Leonardo's training school in Sesto Calende, Italy. The pilots also are certified by Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration. EPAIR maintains and repairs its helicopters in house. 

EPAIR's modernized fleet has been greatly beneficial to residents of the smaller outlying islands. The government contract calls for 24/7 services with an estimated 360 flight hours annually each for Penghu and Matsu, Lee said. In its first full year of service in 2019, EPAIR flew approximately 180 EMS missions to and from Penghu (on approximately two-hour round trips). It flew approximately 110 EMS missions to and from Matsu (on approximately 2.5-hour round trips). Approximately 25 percent of the Matsu trips in 2019 involved ferrying passengers between the islands of Matsu. The government pays EPAIR to ferry outlying island residents from island to island when China Sea waves are higher than 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) and it's hard for ships to transport people. Residents pay approximately $20 per trip. The government also included a Taiwanese custom in the air ambulance: transportation of gravely ill patients home to die. 

Even with the advanced power, speed, and fuel capacity of the twin-engine AW169s, the air ambulance flights over the 110-mile-wide Taiwan Strait are challenging for the crew of two pilots, an EMT 2, mechanic, and sometimes a nurse or doctor if patients are in critical condition. A family member also is allowed to fly along. So the large AW169 size that allows for 360-degree access to patients and the ability to fly for more than three hours is a huge plus.

"Taiwan weather is very tricky," Lee related. "It changes very fast." Challenges include the summer typhoon season, autumn monsoon, and strong northeast winds in the winter, he said.

The archipelago of Penghu includes 90 small islands in the Taiwan Straits between the main island and the China mainland, while Matsu features 36 islands. Penghu has a population of about 105,000 that focuses on the tourism and fishing industries. 

Since Matsu is only approximately five miles away from China and 106 miles from the Taiwan main island, it has traditionally been a Taiwanese military stronghold since the Chinese Civil War when the Republic of China Nationalists retreated to Taiwan in 1949. Approximately 18,000 troops are stationed at a major missile and radar complex on Matsu, alongside only about 13,000 residents. Named for a sea goddess, Matsu is increasingly popular with tourists who can now visit some of the 256 underground fortifications, tunnels and air raid shelters constructed during the Cold War to prevent a Communist China invasion. Kinmen County also is much closer to mainland China than Taiwan.

"Civilian flights (to Matsu) are monitored by the Chinese ATC, but in a friendly manner," Lee said. "Military tension is diminished, but still exists." In case of emergency, EPAIR pilots may seek to land in China if absolutely necessary. 

Many of the islanders have never flown, so experiencing their first flight while also suffering from a medical problem can be frightening. Lee recalls one critically ill patient who was so afraid that he panicked and tore out his endotracheal tube, spilling blood all over the helicopter and almost killing himself. Thankfully the EMT got him back to stable condition, and hospital staff saved his life.

EPAIR flies only from hospital to hospital. The Taiwan National Airborne Service Corps continues to provide air and sea services such as hoisting mountain climbers, wildland firefighting, water rescues, and Coast Guard and police missions.

EPAIR has decided to drop its state-owned Taiwan Power Company contract for electrical transmission line maintenance at this time, Lee said, for several reasons. EPAIR managed to perform the work but the Bell 206 fleet is aging, so it needs to be replaced with Bell 407s, he said. And the government's annual contract offers no minimum payments or payments during down time. EPAIR wants a long-term contract with a fixed minimum payment. 

EPAIR is looking to offshore wind turbine construction for its next venture. The Taiwan Strait winds make it a prime site for the turbines, Lee said.

Three brothers and one sister are involved in running EPAIR. James Lee brings international experience to the family team after living all over the world. He moved to Tokyo at age 11 to live with his uncle, then moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina and San Jose, Costa Rica, becoming fluent in Spanish. Then he lived in the USA before returning to Taiwan. He enjoys attending the HAI Heli-Expo and other trade shows to meet and learn from manufacturers and other professionals. One brother gained management skills from a textile factory with more than 6,000 employees, while another brother has become skilled at working with government officials, Lee said. But they all have one thing in common.

"The best advantage is the will to survive," Lee related. 



Pratt & Whitney has a deep history powering the helicopter industry. Not only are their engines in every Leonardo model, but also in 30 other models from various manufacturers to include more than 5,000 helicopters operating in more than 200 countries.

Leonardo has enjoyed a lengthy partnership with Pratt & Whitney, so it was not a surprise that when it came to powering the AW169, the manufacturer chose the 1,100-shaft horsepower PW210A for its newest medium-class helicopter. “Leonardo and Pratt & Whitney have shared a long-standing relationship because of our common approach to meeting our customers’ needs and helping them achieve success,” said Nicolas Chabée, vice-president of marketing and sales at Pratt & Whitney Canada’s helicopter engine division.

The PW210A is built with only five major rotating components. It is designed for maximum availability and low maintenance with a 4,000-hour time before overhaul (TBO); no scheduled oil change, borescope or vibration checks; and an easily accessible and integrated nozzle for compressor wash, which all contribute to maximizing time in service.

With technology at the heart of the new engine’s advancements, Chabée indicated that the PW210A was built to serve the demanding needs of operators. “The engine’s FADEC seamlessly automates functions such as start sequence, engine protection logistics and advanced health diagnostics. In EMS missions, for example, the PW210A’s APU mode provides the uninterrupted supply of electrical power to keep medical equipment and other capabilities fully functional while the aircraft is on the ground and the rotor blades are stopped for safety,” said Chabée.

At a Heli-Expo 2020 press conference, Leonardo announced a series of performance improvement software packs that would become available and be EASA-approved in 2020. The enhancements are designed to increase engine shaft horsepower (shp), transmission rating, and available payload.

Performance pack improvements:

  • Engine power increase by 130 shp
  • Payload increase up to 350 kg for hovering
  • Payload increase up to 300 kg for Cat A operations
  • Payload increase up to 200 kg for hovering OEI

“The performance improvements recently announced for the AW169, and the twin PW210A engines that power it, enhance the helicopter’s capabilities. The changes are made with little downtime and serve to further facilitate demanding missions such as emergency medical services, or EMS, and wind farm inspection,” Chabée said.