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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 17:58 GMT
Technology allows in-flight care
Airline passengers
Illness on planes can force unscheduled landings
Hi-tech computer medical technology is being used to offer expert care to airline passengers who fall ill in-flight.

On average one plane a day has to make an unscheduled landing somewhere around the world because a passenger has fallen ill and requires medical treatment.

In two minutes you have a complete examination of the patient

Nicolas Poirot
Not only is this highly inconvenient for other passengers, it costs an industry already struggling to cope with turbulent times a great deal of money - $50,000 to $100,000 per diversion.

Airbus, in collaboration with the French Space Agency, has come up with a solution - an on-board, satellite-connected medical briefcase.

A crew member with proper training can now take basic heart, blood, temperature and sugar level readings.

The data is then downloaded by satellite in real time to a surgery or hospital connected to the same information system.

A doctor can then determine whether the patient needs urgent treatment on the ground.

Quick assessment

Nicolas Poirot, a doctor with French Space Agency, said: "In two minutes you have a complete examination of the patient, you send this via the computer to the doctor, who is now able to make a complete assessment of the patient's status."

The technology is not cheap - it costs about $50,000 - but the long-term savings for an airline could be enormous.

As planes get bigger they are going to carry more and more passengers, which means there is more chance someone is going to be sick on board.

Airbus spokesman Matthias Schmidlin said: "Diversions usually imply significant costs, mainly related to fuel costs and putting people in hotels.

"Airlines want to keep costs to a minimum."

Airbus believes there will be a growing market for the technology, particularly as its new generation of planes are more fuel-efficient, and can fly non-stop for 18 hours.

Among the new models is the massive A380 - the super Jumbo - which, with seating for 550, will be the world's biggest passenger plane.

See also:

23 Aug 02 | England
19 Nov 02 | Health
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