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Career Spotlight: In the nick of timeCareer Spotlight: In the nick of time

Air ambulance pilots move quickly

The most famous former air ambulance pilot is Prince William.
Advanced Pilot March 2020
A Piper Seneca II transports a patient to medical care from a remote area of Colombia.
Photography by Chris Rose (sidebar photography by Mike Fizer)

Yes, the Duke of Cambridge may hobnob with other royals and squire around the lovely Kate and the couple’s three adorably photogenic children, according to the tabloids, but his day job was an air ambulance pilot for Cambridge Hospital in London (he donated his salary to charity) until his retirement in 2017 (he’s second in line to the throne and it looks like his father may yet get his chance to be king). William is a military-trained helicopter pilot who claims he enjoyed the fast-paced, high-stress flying that being an air ambulance pilot demands—getting help to people “in the nick of time,” he has been quoted as saying.

Air ambulance pilots transport patients and air medical crews from an accident or trauma location to hospital care in helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft. Just like a ground ambulance, the air ambulance must get to a scene quickly and move patients or victims in a short response time. Air ambulances are called upon to access areas that would take an ambulance too long to get to or that is hard to access. They are lifesavers in that critically wounded patients can get to care quickly—most air ambulance response times are under 10 minutes.

Air ambulance pilots must navigate in challenging weather and busy airspace, and find landing sites that would traumatize most of us. The side of cliffs, busy highways, mountain byways, downtown streets, beaches—if it’s hard to get to, an air ambulance will be called. The pilot is responsible for finding a suitable landing site, with short notice. Especially in challenging urban areas such as London, that’s a tall order. Air ambulance pilots practice finding suitable landing sites when not on call.

If you’ve got nerves of steel and want to help your fellow humans, William and his pals are waiting. There are always openings for the right pilot for this job.

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Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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