Airborne Emergency Rooms Possible With Flying Wi-Fi

Incidents of passenger medical crises have been increasing as populations age and as more huge airliners come into service.
Airborne Wi-Fi hotspots can become airborne emergency rooms thanks to a partnership that enables near-instant diagnosis and sometimes treatment of afflicted in-flight passengers.

Announced Tuesday in Geneva by airborne telecom provider OnAir and Remote Diagnostic Technologies, successful tests demonstrated the potential of utilizing real-time moving video technology to remotely assist afflicted passengers.

"OnAir's and RDT's advanced technology and our SwiftBroadband connection mean that medical experts can more accurately assess the situation than ever before," OnAir CEO Benoit Debains said in a statement. "This not only offers reassurance to the patient but is an enormous step forward in reducing the number of unplanned landings and in improving operational efficiency for the airline."

The two-way air-to-ground RDT equipment streams real-time voice and eight key vital signs, including blood oxygen level, breath gas analysis, and a 12-lead electrocardiogram to doctors on the ground. RDT's Tempus IC system monitor is at the heart of the lightweight system. The European Space Agency also cooperated in the test.

The participants noted that incidents of passenger medical crises have been increasing as passenger populations age and as more huge airliners -- like the 525-passenger Airbus A380 -- enter service. A medical emergency onboard a super-jumbo jet can cause the plane to make an emergency landing. OnAir and RDT estimated that the new telemedicine system can avoid one in 10 emergency landings and that an emergency landing can cost up to $200,000.

In a statement, RDT CEO Graham Murphy said of the Tempus IC system: "It is the world's first monitor to allow users to transmit a full set of vital signs data, with two-way voice and video communication to provide the diagnostic information that supports fast, informed medical decisions by ground-based experts."

What are the other challenges that wireless deployments face? InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).