Flying doctors

One of the most complex areas of aircraft chartering revolves around the highly skilled work of air ambulance operators. Ranging anywhere from patient ferries to medical evacuations (medevacs), they provide everything required to make sure these sensitive flights are executed to perfection. Their services allow patients in need of urgent attention to be carried to specialist hospitals all over the world, while being attended to by a well-trained crew of pilots, doctors and nurses.

Many operators will be able to transport patients with certain medical requirements, and in some cases have the facilities to transport organs for transplants, but there are only a handful of organisations in Europe who deal only in ambulance flights. An aircraft designed specifically for use as an air ambulance carries the same equipment as any regular ambulance, and some larger aircraft are comparable to fully operational hospitals in the sky. Respirators, incubators, heart rate monitors and defibrillators are just a few of the items carried on board.

Many might assume that these services are only available to the existing jet charterer. However, the majority of flights are operated on behalf of governments, health services and charities, and in some cases a flight might even be covered by insurance. In the UK alone, dozens of organ and patient transport flights are operated on behalf of the NHS in situations where every minute can make a difference.

In the case of Tyrol Air Ambulance (TAA), their fleet of five aircraft is in constant demand in Europe and across the globe. On some of their larger aircraft, they also have the capacity to transport relatives alongside the patient.

TAA-aircraft jet

Our entire team works tirelessly to ensure that our patients are looked after to the highest standard and reach their destinations safely and comfortably

Here, TAA’s Hemma Neideregger and Claudia Schmiedhuber tell us about their work:

What gives your operation the advantage over others’?

We are very self-contained. We have our own maintenance team, we have our own operations and dispatch team, and most importantly we have our own crew and medics. This allows us to operate with the utmost efficiency, as everything is in one place.

We also try to utilise our empty legs as much as possible to reduce the waiting time for urgent requests.

What sets you apart from other operators?

We are pioneers in our industry. As well as introducing the latest equipment and methods to our fleet and crew, we are one of the first air ambulance operators to have an in-house psychiatrist. This allows us to help psychiatric patients and also support to families who are going through personal tragedy.

One of the first questions asked about medical flights is how quickly can you depart in an emergency “go now” medevac. What’s the answer?

After everything has been cleared with the client, and our team has confirmed all the medical information, we aim to be airborne anytime from two hours after the flight confirmation.

What is your main area of operation?

As we are based in Innsbruck a lot of our flights are in and around Europe. Having said that, we have a global reach and regularly fly to Asia, Africa and America.

Do the routes change depending on the season?

Yes, definitely! As you can imagine in the winter we have a lot of requests for flights out of the Alps and other popular skiing locations. Being based in Innsbruck, we are perfectly suited for this. And then in the spring we start to see more long-range requests, especially into Asia.

Throughout the summer we see the focus shift to the Mediterranean. We operate a weekly shuttle on one of our Dornier 328 aircraft, which flies between Portugal and Spain and the Benelux area.

Who are your main clients?

I would say around 80% of our requests come from insurance companies and other assistance companies directly. The rest are from private individuals, specialist hospitals and governments.

And who’s booking the long-haul routes?

Most are people who have been taken ill or injured themselves on holiday and need to return home, or expats flying back for treatment. There’s also a lot of demand from people flying from their home countries to foreign hospitals for specialist treatment.

What is provided as standard with the flight? Medics, equipment, etc?

We operate with our own medical team and equipment so that we can ensure the high level of quality we pride ourselves on. All our medics practise with local hospitals when they’re not working with us, and we also take specialists from Italy, Austria and other parts of Germany.

Can a client bring their own medical professionals?

Because of insurance restrictions and the specialist training required, we do not allow other doctors or nurses to operate on our flights. However, if there is room on-board the patient can bring passengers.

What are the main pieces of information you need before the flight?

The route, the condition of the patient, any special requirements, and then the usual charter information such as passport, visas etc.

Is there a case that sticks in your memory?

One that will always stay with us is a patient transport all the way from Australia back to Europe, which was a particularly demanding flight for two reasons. First was the obvious logistical issues. A partner operator flew the patient from Australia to Bangkok, where we met them in our aircraft for a wing-to-wing transfer before flying them back home. The flight planning, obtaining of permits and arranging the necessary medical assistance proved an interesting challenge.

Second was the nature of the patient’s condition. People tend to think of intensive-care patients with physical injuries – yet this patient had been diagnosed with numerous severe psychiatric conditions. It was challenging but thanks to our company psychiatrist we were able to get the patient home safely, humanely and calmly while providing therapy during the flight.

And what would you say are your three USPs?

Discretion, which is obviously essential in this industry.

Support for both the patient and their families. Making sure they feel like they are not just a number.

Dedication. Our entire team works tirelessly to ensure that our patients are looked after to the highest standard and reach their destinations safely and comfortably.


Find out more about Victor’s air ambulance and medevac charter services.

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