CAPTAIN JOHN BROOM, AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE OF NSW/ CHC
When did you first decide you wanted to become a pilot?
I started pilot training at Hoxton Park airfield on fixed wing aircraft, it was during a visit to Bankstown Airport when I saw a friend’s car at a Helicopter flying school and decided to call in and say hello. Two weeks later I had signed up for the course and I have never looked back.
What was the appeal of flying?
Aviation has always seemed to interest me. There was a poster on the wall of the Helicopter Flying School where I learnt to fly, that simple said, “Fixed Wing Pilots are pilots that wanted to fly but never got around to it”. After seeing that I was convinced I was doing the right thing.
Describe your job. What do you do?
I have been flying the NSW Ambulance Rescue Helicopter, here in Sydney, for the past 25 years. I have acquired up 12,000 helicopter hours and we currently operate two AW139s and one EC145 out of Bankstown.
In the early days, our equipment was fairly basic; we had aviation maps, a street directory and a compass. There were no mobile phones or GPS, the helicopter had no autopilots or stabilization and we would go into the mountains in all sorts of weather conditions and search for the injured person. Normally they had been there for a while, as it took time for the message to be relayed back to us, it also meant that the missions would come late in the day and last light was always an issue.
Today we have incredibly capable aircraft, that are approved for Single Pilot IFR, with many safety features to make our job safer and easier, we have Night Vision Goggles, Night Sun search light, 272kg winch, Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning Systems, Traffic Collision Avoidance System, wire detectors, wire cutters, four axis Auto Pilot, Homers, Flight Management Systems, moving maps and a whole bunch more.
What gives you the most satisfaction about your job?
The helicopter industry has been good to me and I have always had employment. In fact, some of the most exciting experiences that have happened to me have been work related; I have flown in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Antarctica and of course, Australia. My work has been vast and varied covering oil and gas, police, construction, long line, seismic, volcanic, geological, flood, fire, Search and Rescue (SAR) and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
As an EMS pilot, I will use an example to explain. We receive many calls to fishermen in the water but one particular mission springs to mind. We found the gentlemen straight away and he was struggling to stay afloat. We held off the target and started to winch the Paramedic down, to 10ft above the water to ensure the down wash would not hit him until we moved across to him. I was using him as my hover reference and I remember seeing him go under and noticed that he was staring at me from under the water. We moved across and we were able to rescue him before he drowned. It’s missions like this where you know that you have made a difference, and you feel good about what you do.
What are the biggest challenges associated with your job?
Our job covers day VFR, night VFR, IFR, Night Sun, Night Vision Goggles, swift water access, day and night winch, vessel transfer, low level, neonatal, mega lift, Balloon pump, confined area, ECMO, mountains, cliffs and the list goes on, keeping on top of all the requirements that go with each discipline requires continual and constant study, We need making decisions for each mission very quickly, you can only do this once you have a thorough knowledge of the above and a few missions under your belt. We can be airborne on an IFR mission within 15 minutes of receiving the call, which is pretty impressive when you consider the complexities of Sydney controlled airspace. To add to this bad weather and prolong time on scene with fuel issues can make for a very high workload.
The advice that I would give any new pilot wanting to get into EMS is to try and gain as much variety in helicopter operations/industry before applying for rescue work. For the most part EMS missions are straight forward, however, there are a percentage of missions where things can go bad very quickly if you don’t pick up on the warning signs early enough. This in my opinion is where experience counts. EMS operations certainly can be very rewarding; there are thousands of people out there today who are alive and well because we have turned up in their hour of need. The modern EMS helicopter is a flying Intensive Care Unit and capable of amazing things!
What are some of the most interesting missions you’ve flown in your time as an air ambulance pilot?
I would estimate that I have completed somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 EMS missions, it’s hard to pick a few when there were so many, I am going back a few years now, I was called to Thredbo during the landslide where 18 people died. I airlifted the sole survivor Stuart Diver to Canberra Hospital and while we were loading Stuart, church bells were ringing throughout the valley. It was a moment I will never forget.
Another mission that comes to mind is finding sailor at night who had fallen overboard, he was about 10 kilometres off the coast. It was real needle in a hay stack scenario, so when we found him every one onboard was on a high.
AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE OF NSW
What qualifications and experience does a prospective Air Ambulance Service of NSW pilot need?
A pilot would require at least:
- an Airline Transport Pilot Licence Helicopters;
- Command instrument rating with a minimum of three renewals;
- Low flying approval;
- Sling load endorsement;
- Hoisting endorsement; and
- Rappelling endorsement.
A pilot’s experience would have to include:
- 2,500 flying house rotary wing;
- 2,000 flying hours Pilot-in-Command (PIC) rotary wing;
- 1,500 flying hours PIC turbine engines;
- 500 flying hours PIC on twin engine rotary wing;
- 500 flying hours on the specific aircraft type used on the contract;
- 50 flying hours IFR; and
- 50 flying hours PIC night flying.
How many pilots does your organisation employ?
CHC Helicopters (Australia) employs around 200 pilots.
Please tell me about the Air Ambulance of NSW helicopter fleet, i.e. aircraft types and numbers of each type.
CHC flies three AW139s and two EC145s out of Bankstown, Wollongong and Orange. We also fly a Bell 412 out of Canberra for Southcare.
Please provide a ballpark figure of an Air Ambulance of NSW pilot’s income
A pilot’s salary can vary significantly based on skill level and experience with current market rates in excess of $150,000 a year.