Emirates Airlines says it is committed to high standards in on-board medical, both in training and equipment, in order to ensure the wellbeing of its passengers.
In 2016, the airline delivered 23,000 hours of medical training for its cabin crew and pilots, ensuring they were ready to assist passengers on board.
Flight diversions due to in-flight medical emergencies, though a tiny portion of the millions of flights operated annually, was gradually increasing with increase in passenger numbers, and was costly for airlines.
According to Emirates, in a statement issued on Tuesday, the airline handled more than 60 flight diversions due to medical emergencies, out of the more than 194,000 it operated in 2016.
“A single flight diversion can cost Emirates anything from US$50,000 to over US$600,000, depending on the nature of the diversion, which include fuel, flight catering, landing and ground handling fees, air navigation cost, passenger rebooking costs and onward connection, as well as other associated costs to care for crew and passengers,” it said.
Mr Adel Al Redha, Emirates’ Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said while Emirates could never hope to recover the costs of flight diversions, the wellbeing of its customers was always the number one priority.
He noted that though there were no international regulations on how to handle medical emergency, Emirates was committed to ensure passengers’ safety.
“If there is a medical emergency on board, our crews have the training and equipment to help them assess the situation, and deliver the best possible outcome for the affected passengers,” he stated.
All Emirates cabin crew go through a comprehensive initial training programme which is required by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, recurrent training to keep their skills up to date, as well as additional specific training for the use of on board medical equipment, which included both theory and practical aspects.
The training, which covers topics such as basic life support (CPR); medical conditions including asthma, heart disorders, seizures and allergic reactions; trauma related topics and even emergency childbirth, prepares them to recognise and deal with common situations, but more importantly handle rare but life-threatening events when time is of essence.
Pilots also attend training sessions covering topics such as Hypoxia, Malaria, Dengue, Trauma, CPR and choking and occupational health issues.
The airline has also invested more than US$ 7 million in the installation of medical equipment on board, emergency medical kits, oxygen bottles, resuscitators, a defibrillator, a telemedicine unit, and a 24/7, satellite medical advisory service that connects crew to specialist aviation medical consultants who can help assess the passenger’s situation in real time, as well as a further US$ 1.7 million annually, for maintenance.
On average, the statement noted, Emirates’ crew makes about 20 calls to the medical advisory service per 100,000 passengers flown. However, most calls do not result in a diversion, but the professional consultation helps the operating crew to make better decisions and offer the right support to the affected passengers, particularly when there are no volunteer medical professionals on the flight.
Emirates’ also conducts detailed scenario planning and regular updates to diversion protocols – in keeping with the airline’s growing global network, and advances in medical thinking, in-flight medical technologies, and training techniques.
“If we have to divert a flight, our aim is to get medical attention for the afflicted passenger as soon as possible. Via our medical advisory consultants and Emirates’ own operations control team, we identify the best location where the passenger may receive appropriate care, and where the airport can adequately support the passengers and aircraft” said Mr Al Redha.
He further advised travellers to ensure they procured the appropriate insurance before travelling as selected locations for diversions due to medical emergencies may have expensive medical costs.