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Passenger Medical Emergencies: Guidance for Controllers

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Revision as of 14:05, 27 February 2014 by Integrator1 (talk | contribs)
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Category: Emergency & Contingency Emergency and Contingency
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary

This article gives an overview of the passenger medical emergencies by describing the typical reasons and most the most frequent scenarios. It also provides advice to controllers for handling such occurrences. The advice is derived from best practices and is not intended to supersede or replace local procedures.

Typical Medical Problems on Board

Researches show that inflight medical emergencies occur at a rate of approximately 15 to 100 per million passengers, with a death rate of 0.1 to 1 per million. (Management of inflight medical emergencies on commercial airlines by M. Prout, J. Pine, see Further Reading). On the other hand, if a serious health problem occurs on board, the access to medical care is limited.

While there is a plethora of medical issues that can arise during a flight, researches have shown that the most common problems are:

  • Fainting
  • Heart attack
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea / vomiting

Not every medical problem leads to the flight crew declaring a medical emergency. In many cases the flight crew and/or other passengers (e.g. doctors) are able to successfully resolve the situation.

Contributing Factors for Passenger Medical Emergencies

The following factors and their combination can exacerbate a health problem that a person might already have (e.g. heart or lung diseases):

  • Air travel is a source of stress and anxiety for some people;
  • Cabin pressure is lower than at sea level;
  • Lower air humidity and alcohol/caffeine drinks can contribute to dehydration;
  • People usually stand still for long periods of time;

Controllers' Actions

The advice given in this section is derived from best practices and common sense and is neither to be considered exhaustive nor intended to replace local procedures.

Generally, the ASSIST (A - acknowledge S - separate S - silence I - inform S- support T - time) routine should be followed, bearing in mind the specifics of the situation:

  • Acknowledge the situation and clarify whether an emergency is being declared;
  • Obtaining as much information as necessary, e.g. number of sick passengers, exact nature of the medical problem or what are the symptoms if the medical problem is not determined and any other relevant details. Determine as necessary if the passenger illness is recognised as infectious (e.g. symptoms such as constant productive cough and signs of fever);
  • Clarify the intentions of the flight crew; most likely they will choose to land on the nearest suitable aerodrome;
  • Assist the flight crew by:
    • Providing shorter route to the aerodrome chosen;
    • Providing information on the aerodrome chosen (if requested);
    • Giving priority to the aircraft that has declared emergency (e.g. issuing separation-related instructions to other aircraft);
    • Coordinate appropriate services on arrival;
    • Inform the supervisor. Outsourcing some of the workload (e.g. coordination with the aerodrome) could prove useful, especially in heavy traffic situations.