Swedish ambulance service Babcock has put five extra aircraft on reserve but faces major expenses after struggling to deal with technical problems within its fleet of air ambulances for Northern Norway. Babcock’s pilots, meanwhile, complained on Friday that they weren’t told about the technical problems and only read about them in the media.
“This is astonishing,” Arnfred Hansen, a Babcock pilot who leads the local air ambulance pilots’ labour organization, told state broadcaster NRK. “This is critical information about the technical situation for a fleet and what can be expected.” After hearing about problems in connection with landings from other pilots, he contacted Babcock management two weeks ago.
“Then I was told that there’d been seven incidents involving three different aircraft,” Hansen told NRK. He thinks seven incidents are too many, and that the pilots should have been informed.
Five aircraft were grounded last weekend, leaving Northern Norway without the emergency preparedness the vast area should have. The air ambulance crisis has set off strong criticism of Health Minister Bent Høie, who has political responsibility not just for the service but also for how Babcock won the rights to provide it. “Babcock lost on quality (in competition with the service that had ambulance rights for 25 years before competitive bidding was imposed) but won on (low) price,” wrote commentator Jo Moen Bredeveien in newspaper Dagsavisen. “Now we’re paying the price.”
After securing five extra aircraft and ultimately correcting the technical problems, Babcock now faces paying big bills itself. It must cover the costs of the reserve aircraft and for the emergency use of the defense department’s Bell helicopter in Finnmark that was put on 24-hour standby.
“We apologize for having created uncertainty around the availability of air ambulances in Northern Norway and that preparedness was weakened,” the leader of Babcock Norge, Marius Hansen, said on Friday. Babcock could report that three of the aircraft that were grounded are now back in service while work began on repairing the other two Friday.