Air ambulance service switches to a fully digital system for transparency, accuracy, and safety.
Established in 1987, Hospital Wing (Memphis Medical Center Air Ambulance Service, Inc) is a nonprofit rotorcraft air ambulance company that provides emergency airlift services and inter-hospital transfers to critically ill and injured patients within a 250-mile radius of Memphis, Tennessee. The Part 135 company’s service area includes West Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama and Kentucky. On average, the company transports 250 patients per month, with 60% of these trauma-related.
Along with skilled and highly trained crews, Hospital Wing operates and maintains seven helicopters spread across five bases. These aircraft include four Airbus H130T2s, three Airbus 130B4s and one Airbus H125B3, all equipped with state-of-the-art aviation devices such as Appareo flight data monitoring, HeliSas auto-pilot systems, Helicopter Terrain Awareness and Warning systems, self-interrogating traffic systems displayed on Garmin G500H MFD/PFD, with dual Garmin GTN 750 and 650 GPS. Six of its helicopters are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and one helicopter is available for PediFlite. All phases of maintenance and inspection are performed at Hospital Wing’s facility in Memphis.
Like any Part 135 aviation service, Hospital Wing’s pilots, and maintenance technicians track and manage flight documentation in compliance with rigorous safety rules and regulatory guidelines.
Over the last two years, Hospital Wing has converted to a cloud-based system for maintenance records and flight tracking data as a way to improve efficiency, visibility, data accuracy, and ultimately the safe operation of aircraft.
Paper Logbooks and Spreadsheets
Along with its 30 pilots, Hospital Wing employs 12 full-time technicians that are FAA approved Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) Technicians, some of which also hold inspection authorization licenses (IA), a higher level of authority.
Like many other aircraft operators, maintenance tracking at Hospital Wing had been largely handwritten logbook entries and spreadsheets.
Nick King, Director of Maintenance, says, “Accuracy and regulatory compliance are vital in our industry, and our paper-driven processes simply weren’t keeping up. It was increasingly time-consuming to complete necessary documentation and, once completed, the documents were not easily accessible by pilots and technicians for reference.”
Achieving a Paperless Operation
In 2016, Hospital Wing implemented the Flightdocs HMX platform, a cloud-based aircraft maintenance, compliance and inventory management solution. Soon after signing on with Flightdocs, the Hospital Wing Director of Maintenance sent copies of all spreadsheets, tracking information and maintenance logs to Flightdocs to develop customized templates for all aircraft.
Once the data transfer and template development were complete, the management solution was ready for use. King recalls, “One of the major reasons we selected Flightdocs was the usability of the program; there’s virtually no learning curve. It seemed really simple to understand and operate — and it is.”
Today, Hospital Wing leverages every feature of Flightdocs HMX capabilities from the Maintenance Tracking Dashboard, which allows users to check the status of fleet or maintenance items, the Inventory Control Dashboard, which manages the movement of parts throughout an operation, the eLogbooks™ for digital maintenance records, to the pilot dashboard to ensure seamless communication with operations and across all team members.
That said, it’s the Work Orders tool for managing the planning, execution and recording of maintenance, inventory and workforce information that’s really made the difference for technicians in terms of efficiency and accessibility.
Increasing Operational Efficiency
Since its inception in 1986, Hospital Wing had relied on conventional paper-driven work order forms to track parts, inventory and timesheets. With the Flightdocs Work Orders module, filling out work orders is entirely automated and simplified through quick navigational functions and filters.
Wexler explains, “Routine inspections are common play with rotor craft, more so than fixed wing. We use the work order function on a daily basis. With it, we can navigate the system and cherry pick items from drop down menus to incorporate into a work order. We view estimated and actual work hours to produce reports based on labor, part and additional cost projections. It’s very effective and easy to use — basically point and click.”
Wexler and the rest of the technicians and mechanics also like the ability to build a reusable parts lists for maintenance items and allocate those items directly from the real-time inventory database to a work order and then transfer data directly from the work order to an eLogbook. He adds, “The time saved with a paperless system is irreplaceable.”
When asked about pilot acceptance of the digital data management tool, King says everyone is excited. He adds, “There’s less paperwork and less time-consuming documentation for everyone. Our pilots really love the ability to update flight times with the faster, cleaner and more stream-lined iPad functionality. Our paper logbooks were messy and were prone to errors. If the pilot made a mistake in paper logbooks, he or she had to drag a line through the wording and sign it. Error correction on digital template and functionality of doing that error correction is so much simpler.”
Flight Department Fully Connected
The entire team from technicians to pilots is especially happy about the accessibility of information.
Gary Macagni, Hospital Wing EMS Pilot, adds, “Of course, our business is time sensitive. When patients need us, it’s immediate. But we have to do all the checks, the weather, make sure we can carry the patient, fuel from A to B and back to hospital. Flightdocs is self-explanatory, with drop-down menus for anything we might need. We point-and-click and information is immediately accessible.”
For Leah Williams, quality control is far improved with the automated system. Williams is the Administration Assistant and Aircraft Quality Control Manager for Hospital Wing. Her job is to review every work order, inspection or compliance document. She says the quality control process for inspection before Flightdocs was rather lengthy. “There was a lot of paperwork and we had to go line-by-line with all the signatures and stickers. To review an inspection with Flightdocs takes 50% less time.”
Even the inspection process is better. She notes that inspections are done in near real-time instead of after-the-fact, adding, “We can see everything as it’s done in Flightdocs.” Further, King adds that he believes Flightdocs has helped build communication between pilots and maintenance teams. “It used to be that all documentation on maintenance was in a closed file cabinet. Now, it’s all live.”
“If a pilot wants to look at the history of a craft down to a screw, he can do that. We all have less paperwork, less time spent preparing documents,” adds King. “I can see notifications about discrepancies as they happen. If an MEL is processed overnight, I get an alert. Accessibility for me is awesome.”
Paperless Operation Realized
As of June 20, 2018 Hospital Wing was live and fully paperless for all maintenance, compliance and inventory management processes thanks to the Flightdocs HMX platform.
For King, the home page dashboard is where he gets the most value. He adds, “Right from the home page, I’m able to see the MELs, NEFs and any discrepancies that we have and quickly track the history of every aircraft. No paper logbooks or flightlogs or aircraft maintenance logs. No more paper — it’s all in Flightdocs.”
King says he has a solid handle on the Hospital Wing fleet at all times. “With paper I had to be at the office to know what was happening with the aircraft,” he says. “Now I can step away and still have that live interaction with our aircraft.”
In 2018, Hospital Wing, became the first helicopter emergency medical service operator in the U.S. to take its entire maintenance, compliance and inventory process fully paperless. They’re flying free with a cloud-based compliance solution, powered by the secure and reliable technology of the Flightdocs HMX platform.