Airborne intensive care transports

Umeå University Hospital is leading in airborne intensive care transport. Long-term experience paired with a wide knowledge of intensive care in extremely difficult conditions generates a unique expertise. This makes airborne intensive care transport one of Region Västerbotten’s profile areas.

På svenska/In Swedish

The profile area is comprised of Flygläkarjouren (on-call flying doctors) which handles intensive care of adults and children in ambulance aircraft, the neonatal transport team for infants, Swedish National Air Medevac (SNAM) and the kommunalförbundet Svenskt ambulansflyg.

– We provide intensive care during door-to-door transports and are on standby for the region’s residents around the clock, all year round. We have anaesthetists, neonatal specialists and specialized nurses, all trained in aviation medicine, says chief physician Helge Brändström.

The long distances of northern Sweden demand fast, safe and reliable patient transports. Consequently, patients are often transported using airborne ambulances to and from Umeå University Hospital, the hub of the northern medical region.

– We use air transport for everyone in need of immediate highly specialized care, for example premature infants, patients with ruptured blood vessels in the brain, or major head trauma, says Helge Brändström.

Safety and skill

The region’s on-call flying doctors and the neonatal transport team handle a substantial part of these transports on a national level too. The expertise and experience of the aviation medicine unit form the basis of the medical content of the Swedish National Air Medevac and the local federation Swedish Air Ambulance.

Svenskt ambulansflyg

Svenskt ambulansflyg is mutually owned and financed by Sweden’s regions to provide all residents with equal access to quality care. This is a time- and cost-efficient way to swiftly transport injured and sick patients over long distances while retaining a high level of patient safety. The aircraft are owned by Svenskt ambulansflyg, but the operation of the fleet has been competitively procured.

Six aircraft of the Pilatus PC-24 model will be operational in a fully equipped air ambulance configuration by 2021. Each aircraft can transport up to three patients on stretchers, and up to seven seated patients. A large cargo door facilitates fast and safe loading of patients and medical equipment. The aircraft can take off from and land at all domestic airports, and the federation will base two planes in Umeå, Stockholm and Gothenburg respectively.

– We estimate to accumulate 6,000 flight-hours in our first year, says Helge Brändström.


In case of larger accidents or disasters where the regular public resources for airborne intensive care transports are insufficient, Swedish National Air Medevac (SNAM) can step in to carry out both domestic and international missions.

– SNAM can bring advanced medical resources to affected areas and transport severely injured patients undergoing intensive care with the same level of patient safety as at our specialist hospitals, Helge Brändström reports.

The aircraft platform for SNAM is the Boeing 737–800, provided by SAS. Nine doctors, eleven nurses and one medical technician can treat sex intensive care patients, six to twelve moderately injured patients and 22 patients with minor injuries or relatives. SNAM can operate anywhere in the world where there is an airport large enough for the aircraft to land. 

An example of a SNAM mission was the transport of injured British and Spanish nationals after the terror attack in Mumbai, India in December 2008. Upon request from the EU, SNAM transported the injured from Bombay to London.


SNAM can compete with all organisations for airborne medevacs in the world, both in terms of competence and resources. By training 120 doctors and nurses who can leave their ordinary positions to join a mission on short notice and without formal preparedness, the organization is flexible and cost-efficient.

– Any Boeing 737-800 in the SAS fleet can be taken out of regular commercial service and be reconfigured to a SNAM air ambulance within six hours of an alert. All seats are removed, and the aircraft is equipped with medical personnel, specially designed mobile intensive care stretchers, ambulance stretchers and medical equipment. A second aircraft can be ready within twelve hours, says Helge Brändström.

The aircraft have a range of approximately 3,000 km without stopovers to refuel, and with refuelling they can operate worldwide.

Mobile intensive care stretchers

In association with a local company, the University Hospital of Umeå has developed a certified mobile intensive care stretcher. The stretcher is equipped with a respirator, infusion pumps for delivering medications directly into the bloodstream, suction units, monitoring devices for ECG, saturation and invasive blood pressures, and a heart defibrillator. Built-in batteries and oxygen supply enable consistent advanced intensive care of patients in transit from one hospital to another.

The Swedish National Air Medevac’s standard equipment includes six stretchers, and they can also be used by Svenskt ambulansflyg when necessary.

Training programmes

The aviation medicine unit at Umeå University Hospital trains both domestic and international medical personnel in aviation medicine. The training programme consists of three steps. The first week of basic training combines aviation medical theory with practical exercises in medevac helicopters and air ambulances. Two days of intermediate training focuses on hypoxia, the effects of high-altitude pressure, G-forces, equipment and organisation. Finally, the training programme concludes with an advanced, full-scale exercise with simulated injured patients in a fully equipped air ambulance.



Helge Brändström, MD, PhD. Chief physician of anaesthetics and intensive care, +46 70 319 07 95.

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