Federal Foreign Minister Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Minister of Health Hermann Gröhe accepted receipt of the world’s first evacuation aircraft for transporting and treating Ebola patients on behalf of the German government. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr handed over an Airbus A340-300 for its new role in Berlin on Thursday (27 November).
At the request of the Federal Foreign Office, Lufthansa Technik spent the last few weeks converting what was previously a passenger aircraft called the “Villingen-Schwennigen” so that it could be used for this special humanitarian mission. Under its new name, the “Robert Koch”, it now serves as the world’s only evacuation facility for highly contagious patients. Unlike the smaller aircraft that have been sporadically available to date, the facility can provide comprehensive intensive care on board.
The Lufthansa Group was able to complete such a complex and technically demanding undertaking so quickly because the airline was in a position to provide a long-haul aircraft at short notice that was suitable for the specific requirements of the project. As a global leader in aviation technology, Lufthansa Technik also has a wealth of experience in installing a diverse range of non-standard cabin interiors on aircraft for governments, VIPs and the business travel sector. It was able to draw on this expertise for the construction and installation of the special isolation unit in the aircraft cabin.
The aircraft conversion, which started on 17 November in Hamburg, was carried out in partnership with the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). In the middle and rear of the long-haul aircraft, passenger seats, kitchen and washing areas, and baggage lockers were removed to make way for a patient transport isolation unit surrounded by an airtight tent with negative pressure. Inside, medics can provide patients with intensive care and treatment during the flight while remaining fully protected. Two exterior tents, which are also airtight, serve as buffers so that the treatment tent can be entered and exited safely. At the front of the cabin, there are still seats for up to 19 passengers such as doctors, attendants from the RKI, isolation tent technicians and a Lufthansa engineer.
Within a short space of time, a total of more than 700 pilots and flight attendants volunteered as cockpit and cabin crew for the “Robert Koch” humanitarian project, which will initially run for six months.