UK air ambulance group lobbies for infrastructure

 - December 21, 2006, 11:15 AM

Ten months ago all 16 of England’s and Wales’ air ambulances created the Association of Air Ambulance Charities (AAAC) to lobby the government to consider the needs of the air ambulance community. The AAAC argues that the lives and money the group saves warrant it some influence. Association chairman David Philpott recently met UK Secretary of State for Health Patricia Hewitt to express the charities’ wish to be included in the health policy.

Philpott told AIN, “We clarified that we do not want money from the government.” Instead, the association would like the government to help the industry with infrastructure issues. For example, some hospitals are turning helipads into parking for cars. “They should be reminded that helipads are important in routine helicopter emergency medical service [HEMS] and to face natural disasters and terrorism,” Philpott added. “We need a wider approach,” he emphasized, claiming that the government can help with this issue, too.

While the member organizations believe that joining voices is making them heard, according to Philpott, the 16 air charities have no plan to merge into a single organization, like the Swiss Rega. Each charity has its own constitution and well established links with its donors.

In total, the 16 air ambulance charities have 22 helicopters in service. The most popular types are the MD 902, Agusta A109 and Eurocopter EC 135. They
undertake 17,500 missions a year–40 percent road traffic collisions, 24 percent other medical emergencies, 3 percent inter-hospital transfers and 33 percent miscellaneous, including industrial accidents and incidents as well as sporting injuries.

Some 35 pilots fly for the charities. They also employ medical personnel, of course. In fact, most charities lease helicopters with crews. These are supplied by six operators, which hold the air operators’ certificates (AOCs). Among them are Bond Air Service, Medical Aviation Services (also known as Police Aviation Service), Sloane and Stirling Helicopter. Only London Air Ambulance has an AOC.

For example, the Kent Air Ambulance Trust, of which Philpott is the chief executive, wet-leases an MD 902. “This costs us $162,000 per month and we get the aircraft, two pilots, maintenance services and a replacement helicopter,” Philpott said.
England’s and Wales’ air ambulance charities together spend $29 million in the helicopter industry annually, Philpott asserted. They use 660,000 gallons of fuel a year. They hope that uniting under the AAAC banner will help them negotiate better contracts with suppliers.

According to the association’s president, there are enough ambulance helicopters in England and Wales, but there is room for two or three more.

Air ambulance charities collectively raise $48 million a year. The AAAC estimates that its members have a database of more than 250,000 donors.