Russia seeks to expand air ambulance service in Arctic

A Kamov Ka-27PS military helicopter during search and rescue exercises. Credit: Yuri Smityuk/TASS via Getty Images

The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, or EMERCOM, wants to build a network of airports and helicopter pods alongside the country’s northern coast to develop a more effective air ambulance service in the Arctic.

EMERCOM has established seven research and rescue centers in the Arctic, but it is not enough to effectively secure the safety of vessels traversing the 5,600-km long Northern Sea Route, said a statement posted in Russian government in-house publication, The Russian Gazette, on 11 May. However, it is not clear how many more centers EMERCOM wants to build or by what date.

Navigation in the Arctic is difficult, particularly due to multiple shallow areas along sea routes that pose heightened risk of ship accidents, the publication said. The flying time from the existing helicopter bases is sizable and it may take hours for rescuers to arrive and aid a vessel in distress, the publication added. Given the harsh environmental conditions in the region, times should be significantly cut down to ensure the survival of crew.

The Russian emergency services currently has about 200 medical helicopters on duty. In 2018, the government ordered the purchase of 150 new Ansat and Mi-8AMT medically equipped helicopters under a Rub40 billion (USD700 million) contract. All are expected to be delivered by the end of 2020.

The Russian Healthcare Ministry estimated that to fully meet the domestic demand in air ambulance services, including in domestic waters, the country needs about 8,500 helicopters. About 1,500 heliports with refueling stations are slated to be built across the country by 2035.