The world’s first feasibility study on the use of piloted multicopters in rescue services has concluded that it is possible and does improve the medical care in a region – with Volocopter’s VoloCity eVTOL aircraft to be part of a research project planned to begin in Germany by 2023.

The 130-page study was launched in 2018 by ADAC Luftrettung and sponsored by the non-profit ADAC Foundation. In cooperation with Volocopter, it focused on the following question: Can the rescue service system be improved and made future-proof by using multicopters as transport for emergency doctors?

Based on historical Rescue Coordination Center data, the researchers’ computer simulated more than 26,000 emergency operations with multicopters for the Ansbach rescue service area with the air rescue bases in Dinkelsbühl, Bavaria and in Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate. Scenarios were simulated with different deployment radii, ranges, and speeds.

The technical feasibility was examined based on Volocopter’s VoloCity eVTOL aircraft, which is due to be operational within the next two to three years. According to the study, its advantage over ground-based NEFs is greater in rural areas than in the city.

Florian Reuter, Chief Executive Officer at Volocopter, said: “We are proud to be contributing to the greater public good by applying Volocopter technology to air rescue missions. In the close cooperation with ADAC Luftrettung, it has become clear how profound the professional expertise in the field of air rescue and helicopter fleet operation is. At the same time, this collaboration shows how forward-looking and open to innovation the project participants are.

“The VoloCity is the first multicopter worldwide that is already in the process of commercial certification, and together with ADAC Luftrettung, it could already save lives today.”

With such multicopters, emergency physicians could often be at the scene of an emergency twice as fast in rural areas compared to a conventional emergency medical service vehicle and reach around two to three times as many patients in a larger health service area.

They are also an adequate means in combating the shortage of emergency doctors in many places and enabling current emergency doctors to work more efficiently. This was one of the most important findings of the study, in light of the national average emergency doctor arrival time worsening in the last 20 years by almost 40 per cent.

Dr. Andrea David, Chairman of the ADAC Foundation, added: “The increasing shortage of emergency doctors is a major challenge for the emergency medical care of the population – especially in rural areas. For this reason, the ADAC Foundation has supported this innovative research project conceptually and financially from the very beginning.

“Now, we are looking forward with excitement to the field test as the results of the scientific study make it clear that piloted multicopters can act as fast emergency medical transporters and help solve this serious problem in the near future.”

Until the pilot project starts, further technical test flights will take place at Volocopter’s non-public research sites to assess the piloted aircraft for air rescue services in special conditions.

This includes take-off and landing on slopes, in poor visibility, at night, or in winter. The German Aerospace Center (DLR), a long-standing research and development partner of the ADAC Luftrettung, is scientifically supporting the project

The 130-page study concluded that piloted multicopters can improve the medical care in a region. Credit: ADAC Lufterttung.

Operational testing in 2023 will then take place in the two existing model regions: the Ansbach rescue service area and the ADAC air rescue station in Dinkelsbühl, Bavaria, and at a new, multicopter-only base in the Idar-Oberstein region of Rhineland-Palatinate. Patient transport is not planned for initial implementation.

The Interior Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, Roger Lewentz, commented: “Rhineland-Palatinate is a rural state with low mountain ranges and valleys. This terrain brings challenges for emergency doctors and rescue services, who must be with the patient within a short time.

“On average, the ambulances in Rhineland-Palatinate are already at the scene of the emergency well below the legal deadline. However, we are also pleased that the statistical data available throughout the state of Rhineland-Palatinate allows a closer look at new innovative ideas.”

According to the study, significant improvements in emergency care for an operating radius of 25 to 30km has been shown. In this case, the optimal flight speed of the multicopter should be between 100 and 150 km/h with a minimum range of approximately 150km. These ideal conditions would be technically possible in about four years.

As well as the medical and technical requirements, the study also examined economic efficiency. Researchers believe cost-efficient operation is possible, with costs to be lower than the generally high investment requirements in the health care system.

Based on the research results and the state of technological advancements, a nationwide network of up to 250 multicopter bases could be created in Germany by 2050, according to the project managers’ optimistic forecast.