Getting a gig as a CareFlight pilot is one of the plum jobs in the EMS industry. Derek Royal finds out why.
It’s 0930 and CareFlight pilot Travis West has just signed on for duty at Westmead Hospital. He gathers his crew together and leads a discussion on expected weather conditions, possible aircraft maintenance issues, and risk management; before making sure that all company documents are up to date and in order. A 33-year-old American who has been with CareFlight for two years, Travis determines that today’s weather is clear and suitable for flying; while the crew, consisting of a doctor, paramedic and air crewman, are all briefed and ready to go.
Within minutes of the briefing’s conclusion, Travis receives word that the chopper is needed urgently at the site of a serious motor vehicle accident in Sydney’s outer west. He immediately notifies his team and delivers a rundown of the mission at hand. The crew scrambles for the sleek Agusta 109 helicopter, the primary aircraft for CareFlight’s Helicopter Emergency Rapid Response Trauma Team (HERRTT). The chopper is already fully loaded with medical supplies and as Travis requests clearance to take off, the crew are strapped in and ready to go; their thoughts already focused on the job at hand. Since being alerted to the mission, a mere four minutes have elapsed, making the CareFlight operation one of the fastest of its kind in the world.
“Launch time is quite short – between two and four minutes is typical,” Travis explains. “It’s probably the fastest I’ve ever seen. I have a lot of friends in the U.S. that fly EMS (Emergency Medical Services) and when I tell them how fast and efficient CareFlight has made this HERRTT model, they’re astounded.”
Travis starts up the 109’s engines and ticks off his checklists with the speed and efficiency of a seasoned pro. He monitors his gauges and holds the chopper as steady as possible, while the air crewman sits alongside him, taking care of the engine and torque gauges. Meanwhile, all four members of the crew scan outside, looking for any obstructions and traffic within their immediate vicinity.
In a matter of minutes, Travis and his crew will arrive at the scene of yet another road accident, where their skill and experience will be critical to the survival of the people involved. Teamwork will also play a crucial role, so it’s no surprise when Travis states that the most satisfying part of his job is working with such a quality group of people. “I’ve not worked with a better team,” he says. “We spend 12 hours of a shift together so I guess you have to like the people you work with to sit with them for that long. There’s plenty of time to get to know each other.”
Apart from HERRTT, Travis also flies missions as part of CareFlight’s provision of dedicated helicopters for the Newborn and Paediatric Emergency Transport Service (NETS), a NSW Health Service unit dedicated to newborn babies and children.
NETS uses CareFlight for time-critical missions within a band from the outskirts of Sydney to around 500 km away. This accounts for one in six NETS missions, with others conducted by fixed wing and road ambulance transport taking the babies and children to specialist centres in Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra. CareFlight utilises Bell 412EP and BK117 helicopters for these missions.
Travis concedes that it can be difficult seeing so much human suffering on a daily basis, but as a father of children aged one and three, dealing with sick youngsters is particularly challenging. “It really rings a bell with me when I see a hurt baby,” he says. “But we do have debriefings when we get back from missions and we all get to talk about things that we see. It always helps to give my babies a call when I come back from some of those jobs.”
So what advice would Travis offer to pilots or students with aspirations of scoring a job at CareFlight?
“They have to be very dedicated,” he says. “You don’t just get a licence and show up and get a job.” Indeed, rookie pilots entertaining thoughts of a career in such a specialised and well-respected sector of the industry as EMS, must be prepared to serve a lengthy apprenticeship; travel anywhere and accept whatever hardships are thrown their way in order to build hours and experience. Travis himself followed such a path.
As a boy growing up in the small town of Leavenworth, Washington, an eight-year-old Travis was bitten by the flying bug after he and a cousin were treated to a helicopter joy ride by his Aunt Janet. Admiring the spectacular mountain scenery common to America’s north-west, so mesmerised was Travis by the experience, that flying helicopters became a life-long obsession.
“That experience really stuck with me,” Travis explains. “I think it was the freedom aspect. I could go wherever I wanted to go. Do whatever I wanted to do. Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to fly helicopters.”
Travis worked hard towards achieving his dream and after gaining his commercial licence and earning a flight instructor rating, he met the “girl” of his dreams, an Australian by the name of Hayley. The young couple discovered they were the perfect match and married after a two month courtship! Hayley supported Travis’s desire to fly and the couple lived a nomadic lifestyle, with Travis building his hours and experience in instructing and charter before landing his first EMS gig in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He remained with the same company and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he flew EMS missions in a Eurocopter EC145. But as much as he loved EMS, he didn’t hesitate to trade the harsh winters of the Great Lakes region for the tropical delights of Kauai, Hawaii, where he earned a crust flying tourists around the islands. But the call of EMS work eventually lured the Wests back to Cleveland, where they remained before Travis was offered the chance of a lifetime – a position with CareFlight in Sydney.
“I promised Hayley that if an opportunity to work in Australia came up, I’d take it,” Travis explains. True to his word, Travis led his brood Down Under to begin yet another chapter in a remarkable aviation journey. The rest they say, is history.
CAREFLIGHT FACTS AND FIGURES
Prospective CareFlight helicopter pilots should possess and demonstrate the following:
?Australian permanent resident status
?Class 1 Civil Aviation Medical Certificate
Required Rotary wing flying experience:-
? 3,000 hours total
? 2,000 hours PIC
? 1,500 hours PIC turbine
? 500 hours PIC multi
? 50 hours IFR
? 30 hours PIC NVFR
? Command Instrument Rating (H)
? Minimum 3 x CIRR
? Hoist and low flying
? ATPL (H)
? EFIS cockpit
? EMS / SAR
? Medium / Heavy helicopter experience
Number of Pilots employed by CareFlight:
35 Full Time Pilots and 15 Casual Pilots
CareFlight Helicopter Fleet:
Kawasaki BK117-B2 (2)
Agusta A109E Power (1)
Bell 412 EP (1)