RFDS uses the latest aviation surveillance technology to care for patients

Date published

03 Aug 2020

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) (RFDS) is using the latest in aviation surveillance technology to deliver greater levels of care for its patients.

The SkyNet Aviation automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) technology is giving the RFDS greater visibility over its entire, 20 aircraft fleet.

The SkyNet ADS-B is operated via 40 specialised receivers located right across Queensland, which track RFDS aircraft every second.

These receivers have been placed at carefully chosen locations managed by long-term RFDS corporate partner, Ergon Energy.

Screenshot of skynet tracker

Previously, the frequency of aircraft tracking for the service was at intervals closer to two minutes.  

Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Barron, said the SkyNet ADS-B system was already delivering greater benefits for patients of the RFDS.

“This system gives us greater visibility over our aircraft at more frequent intervals, which means we have far greater accuracy around aircraft arrival times,” Mr Barron said.

“This means we can coordinate with our colleagues at Queensland Ambulance Service with more precise information to ensure we can transfer patients quicker and with greater ease, meaning they can arrive at their destination of care sooner.

“The RFDS is always looking at ways to build on our level of care, and this is another way we are achieving that goal.”

RFDS Duty Tasking Officers are responsible for the coordination of all RFDS aircraft carrying out patient flights right across the state. 

The SkyNet ADS-B system provides them with a suite of tools which allows greater visibility, as well as more reliable communication with RFDS pilots and medical crews during flight.

Even if one of their Beechcraft King Air aircraft is 1000km from base over the virtually uninhabited Simpson Desert, RFDS flight operations can see its position with a precision of under 100m at every moment.

While this sounds obvious in the age of smartphones and GPS, those technologies rely on infrastructure - such as mobile towers - that simply don’t exist in the deep outback. The new ADS-B network has rectified that infrastructure gap for aviation-specific uses.

“Our Duty Tasking Officers are already witnessing greater efficiencies in the way they can schedule and move patients around the state,” Mr Barron said.

“The SkyNet system provides them with a whole new set of tools to be able to reduce delays, helping us manage the logistics of our patient transfer and liaising with the Queensland Ambulance Service to make the handover of patients more efficient.”

SkyNet Aviation Chief Executive Officer, Jon Davis said the network meant people living, working and travelling in regional, rural and remote Queensland would now have more reliable access to health care.

“The Royal Flying Doctor Service in Queensland now has world-class 24/7 capabilities to manage their aircraft. They can see the locations, routes and weather for the whole fleet across Queensland live,” Mr Davis said.

“RFDS are keen to pioneer new technologies that improve patient outcomes. With coronavirus pandemic still looming, anything that improves operational efficiency has got to be a benefit to patients.”