BlueSky: Why Medics Are Chartering More Business Jets As Air Ambulances
Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, chief executive of London Executive Aviation (LEA), one of Europe’s largest business jet charter operators, tells BlueSky about the value of chartering business jets as air ambulances.
Helicopter air ambulances are being run ragged trying to respond to their many emergency call-outs. An air ambulance – either helicopter or jet – takes off somewhere in the UK every 10 minutes, but having one on standby full-time is financially challenging. NHS Trusts struggle to fund them, with the result that some air ambulances are being supported solely by charitable donations.
Chartering business jets for medical flights can be a valuable support option. Their use for this purpose is on the rise after a drop off during the worst of the recent economic upheavals. In particular, we are seeing them being chartered for planned procedures, mainly the transportation of human organs for transplant and patients for urgent surgery, freeing up full-time air ambulances to concentrate on emergencies.
Trusts are recognising the economic case for chartering, when balanced against limited air ambulance resources, especially now business jet operators have proven their ability to respond with the speed needed for these services.
Take organ transplants. Typically, the crew will depart from base and fly to an airport close to the hospital where the donor is located. Once the aircraft is in place the surgical team will begin the operation to remove the organs, which can take several hours. The aircraft crew has to remain on standby and depart at very short notice while the flight operations team ensures the aircraft is given priority in the airspace, as well as on departure and landing. Communication between everyone, every step of the way, is vital.
Considering their important role in medicine, it is therefore a source of amazement to me that dedicated helicopter air ambulances continue to suffer VAT on their fuel. The Association of Air Ambulances is calling on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce a balanced and fair approach to the application of VAT and duty charged on aviation fuel where it is used in such services – there are precedents for similar exemptions on fuel for organisations involved in saving life – and this is something LEA fully supports.
Air ambulances and their crews play an important part in saving lives and improving the outcome of serious trauma and medical illnesses. Until they are given the full funding needed to do their jobs to the best of their ability, we will be there to lighten their load.
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