With all the benefits that business aviation provides to companies seeking freedom and flexibility, one may not consider the equally important role the industry plays in providing vital humanitarian relief in times of crisis. A discussion at the 2018 European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE2018) Innovation Zone highlighted the breadth and scope of these missions.
“Most of our focus is on the adaptability, fluidity and efficiency of business aviation in getting a customer from point A to point B, the reality is a lot more lies behind this,” said EBAA Communications Director Eric Drosin, moderator of the session Giving Back: Business Aviation in Times of Crisis. “Here we’re thinking of medical evacuation and special mission operations that extend far beyond serving the client; it’s about serving the patient, too.”
Dr. Siegfried Axtmann is the founder and chairman of FAI Aviation Group, which includes a dedicated air ambulance operation currently available to operate in every country in the world except Syria. “In 2017 alone, we airlifted 925 patients a distance of around 2.5 million nautical miles, representing 160 times flying around the globe,” said Axtmann. “These patients were airlifted from 357 different locations, to destinations in another 130 countries.”
FAI also provides critical logistical support to the world’s largest non-governmental organization, the United Nations, airlifting personnel and patients from areas experiencing geographical disasters, civil unrest and, sometimes, open conflict. Aircraft are often based in hostile areas, with crews required to be available around the clock to plan missions, maintain aircraft and convert cabins from passenger seating to flying intensive care units – all within a matter of hours.
“You can imagine how challenging it is to a dispatcher and flight planner not know what they will need to plan for,” said Axtmann. “The pilots and medical teams are flying to destinations they may not have been to in 12 months, and they’re hoping the situation on the ground will be the same as it was then – unfortunately, that’s seldom the case.”
Despite these challenges, Axtmann noted FAI’s risk assessment process isn’t too different from what may be found in any other business aviation flight department.
“We have a very effective risk management process in place; that said, should a civil war break out tomorrow with an airport under fire, we must turn around if that intelligence comes too late,” he said. “But that happens very rarely.
“You must absolutely want to do this kind of work and to be challenged by it,” Axtmann added. “This is about giving something back of all we get from the world.”