GA Serves America: Intensive care units with wings

July 21, 2009

gasa The AirMed International Hawker 800 medical jet transports critically ill patients across the country.

A unique, but unfortunately frequent, flight activity at the Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM) is long-range medical evacuation. Kissimmee Gateway is the closest airport to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., and world-famous attractions, like Disney theme parks, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios.

Each year, the Orlando/Kissimmee area hosts 47 million visitors, including more than two million international travelers. A very small percentage of those visitors become critically ill or experience the onset of a seriously debilitating medical condition during their stay. This leaves patients very ill, frightened, and a long way from home. Once they are stabilized and able to tolerate air travel, a conventional flight on an airline is often not feasible. So, how can critically ill or injured people get back home to their families and medical-care practitioners in these situations?

Enter jet medevac service, an intensive care unit (ICU) with wings. These aircraft can land at most general aviation airports, ensuring the minimum over-road time from the hospital in Orlando/Kissimmee and arriving back home. The level of care in these aircraft includes most of the sophisticated medical equipment found in a hospital’s ICU. On board, a medical crew will include a specially trained flight nurse for the most critical patients. These procedures are the same system that was pioneered by the military starting in World War II and refined over the years to the high-level that aero-medical evacuation is today.

gasa The inside of the AirMed jet is fitted out with sophisticated medical equipment.

Most of the complex medical evacuation jet aircraft have ranges of up to 1,600 miles without refueling. The use of jet aircraft ensures a smooth and stable ride with a high degree of comfort and safety. Most aircraft are capable of accommodating two or more family members to accompany patients on their journey. At the start of the process, a conventional ambulance will bring the patient from the medical facility to the local GA airport. The ambulance is escorted to the aircraft, where the patient is transferred. The aircraft is able to depart as soon as the patient is secure. This type of operation is just one of the many ways that GA contributes to the quality of life in the Orlando/Kissimmee area.

Terry Lloyd is director of aviation at Kissimmee Gateway Airport. Signature Flight Support-Kissimmee and AirMed International, LLC contributed information and materials to the article.