At the end of December 2021 there were 253 operational EMS helicopters in the Asia-Pacific region. The EMS fleet decreased by 29 units compared to 2020. This change can be attributed to 47 deductions, ten pre-owned additions, six new deliveries, and two helicopters that changed their configurations. Ems configured helicopters represent 5.7% of the total fleet and 7% of the total fleet value. Although the growth rate has slowed down since 2019, the registered EMS market grew for five consecutive years and saw a decline for the first time in 2021 (a drop of about 10.3%), which is due to a major decline in the mainland China fleet.
EMS is indispensable to the medical service sector as it provides urgent pre-hospital treatment for serious injuries and illnesses. EMS helicopters not only offer some of the most advanced pre-hospital care available, but they can also quickly access rural or remote locations and intervene when ground-based medical units are not available. Since EMS helicopters need to perform different rescue tasks, the ease of converting equipment in the cockpit is critical for providing medical services.
The first documented EMS helicopters in Asia-Pacific appeared during the Korean War for transferring the injured. Today, EMS helicopters have expanded beyond military use under various scenarios, including accidents and natural disasters. When incident locations hamper the process of retrieving patients, EMS helicopters might also be responsible for air-dropping equipment, medicine, and food.
In 2021, Japan led the market with 84 EMS helicopters, two more than in 2020. The Japanese Congress enacted the EMS helicopters operation procedures, ensuring governments and medical centers ran smoothly under different incidents. Since earthquakes happen in Japan frequently, the EMS sector is critical to the country. Taking Osaka for example, the Osaka air medical service team was formed in 1970 as it was responsible for emergency transportation and rescue.
Australia surpassed mainland China as the second-largest EMS market in APAC, with a fleet of 68 helicopters dedicated to EMS operations. Due to its unique landform, helicopters would be a better option when performing cliff and sea rescues. In Australia, helicopter-based EMS is funded by the government and the community.
With a net deduction of 35 helicopters, mainland China is now ranked third with 48 EMS helicopters in 2021. Most of the deducted EMS helicopters were operated under the name of Kingwing, which declared bankruptcy in 2021 and subsequently put its EMS configured helicopters into storage. In fact, there were early signs that there could be recession in the Chinese EMS market. In 2020, at least 38 helicopters were grounded or stored (Kingwing grounded at least 29 helicopters), taking 47% of the total EMS capacity out of the market. However, despite the absence of such a powerful operator, mainland China still accounted for about 19% of the EMS market share.
Japan, Australia and Mainland China contributed to 79% of helicopters in the EMS market in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Airbus H135 remained the top EMS helicopter model with 42 units in the Asia-Pacific region in 2021, accounting for 17% of the total EMS fleet. Japan has the highest concentration of EMS H135s, with 34 operating in the country. Leonardo’s AW139 was the second most popular with 36 units (14% market share).
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