Friday, 31 December 2021

Patient Zero - Turkmenistan Acquires Kazan Ansat And Mi-17-1V Helicopters For Medical Air Services

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Turkmenistan is on the largest aircraft-buying spree in the history of the country. This has so far seen the acquisition of M-346 and A-29B combat aircraft, C-27J NG transport aircraft and Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs for the Turkmen Air Force, and a fourth Boeing 777-200LR airliner and two Airbus A330-200P2F cargo aircraft for Turkmenistan Airlines. [1] [2] Also acquired are a single Kazan Ansat and one Mi-17-1V helicopter to provide emergency ambulance services throughout the country. [3] The helicopters were delivered in April and May 2021, entering service with Turkmenistan Airlines, which operates the helicopters on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry. [4] 
The use of air ambulances is a relatively novel feat in Central Asia. Only Kazakhstan operates a number of helicopters dedicated to medical roles, with countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan already struggling to maintain a small air force, let alone operate a fleet of helicopters dedicated to medical tasks. The Eurocopter EC135 and EC145 (now Airbus Helicopters H135 and H145) have proven particularly popular helicopters for emergency medical services. Even though Turkmenistan already operates a number of EC145s, the decision was nonetheless taken to purchase Russian types. [5]
A contract for the supply of the Ansat and Mi-17-1V helicopters was signed between Kazan Helicopters and Turkmenistan Airlines in March 2020. [3] Both helicopters come equipped with specialised medical equipment that includes medical ventilators, electrocardiography units, intubation sets and defibrillators. [6] The Mi-17-1V is additionally fitted with two outboard fuel tanks for increased range, the SLG-300 hoist system and an external sling to carry underslung cargo loads of up to four tonnes. [4] In November 2020, thirty Turkmen aviation specialists began their training at the Kazan Helicopter Plant in Tatarstan, where the helicopters are produced. [6]

The Mi-17-1V (left) and Kazan Ansat (right). Note the outboard fuel tank on the Mi-17.

Both helicopters will likely be based out of Ashgabat International Airport (IAP). Around one-sixth of Turkmenistan's estimated population of some six million lives in Ashgabat, and the country's most modern hospitals are located here. All but a few of these feature a helipad, enabling operations of the Ansat and Mi-17. Other large population centers in Turkmenistan include Daşoguz, Türkmenabat and Mary. It doesn't seem implausible that more helicopters will be acquired to better cover these and other cities.

The concept of a medical-configured Kazan Ansat is presented to President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in January 2020.

The Kazan Ansat has yet to achieve major commercial success compared to the ubiquitous Mi-17. While Russia has designed several types of modern multipurpose helicopter types since the 1990s, including the Mi-38, the Ka-62 and the Ansat, the venerable Mi-17 is still popular with export clients. This seems unlikely to change anytime soon, with new variants still being unveiled to this day. [7] The Ansat has so far entered service with several clients in Russia, with Craft Avia Center in Mexico, the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Srpska and now Turkmenistan Airlines. [8] [9]

[1] The new passenger airliner "Boeing 777-200LR" has arrived in Turkmenistan
[3] Acquisition of ANSAT and Mi-17-1V medical helicopters
[4] Special helicopter purchased in Russia arrives in Turkmenistan 
[8] Mexico's Craft to put Ansat into action