London’s Air Ambulance Turns To Airbus To Replace Aging MD902s

Airbus Helicopters
Credit: Airbus Helicopters

FARNBOROUGH—London’s Air Ambulance (LAA) has ordered two Airbus H135 twin-engine light helicopters as part of a modernization of the charity’s emergency medical service fleet.

The H135 won out in a tightly fought competition against Leonardo’s AW109 Trekker, with the LAA concerned about the AW109’s ability to operate in some of the tighter landing spots in an increasingly congested London. The H135s will replace two MD Helicopters MD902s, one of which has been in service since 1998.

“In the end we decided that the H135 just met the operating requirements slightly better than the 109, particularly for London,” LAA Deputy CEO Charles Newitt says. “[London] is a congested area, and that was our sole consideration, getting as close to the patients as quickly as possible.”

The LAA’s helicopters will be fitted out by Airbus Helicopters UK at its Kidlington, England, site, where the completion will be managed. 

The aircraft will be equipped with a Bucher Leichtbau EMS interior. Delivery of the first aircraft will take place in September 2024, with the second following a month later.

The introduction of the H135s will change the LAA’s mode of operation. Unlike the MD902s, which are equipped with a permanent stretcher system, the H135s will feature a temporary stretcher as only a handful of the charity’s flights—around 8%—result in a patient being airlifted to a hospital. Instead, the LAA’s helicopters act more like a first responder, delivering a specialist team of trauma doctors as close to incident scenes as possible.

“The MD902 has been a most fantastic aircraft, and if you ask any of our pilots, they would wish to replace it with another MD902, or an uprated version of it, but sadly that’s not available,” Newitt says.

The decreasing numbers of MD902s in Europe meant LAA was facing a “supportability issue” with the U.S.-built NOTAR-anti-torque system, one of which has flown for the charity for 30 years. The second aircraft has been flying with the charity since 2015.

Gary Clark, head of civil business at Airbus Helicopters UK, says he is delighted to welcome the LAA back to Airbus. The charity’s first aircraft was an Aerospatiale AS365 Dauphin, which the charity operated from 1988-98.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.