Pentastar takes over EMS ops for University of Michigan

 - January 27, 2010, 10:35 AM

Pentastar Aviation has signed up its first emergency medical services (EMS) customer and is now running all University of Michigan Health System Survival Flight operations. The fleet includes a Citation Encore and three Bell 430s. Pentastar is headquartered at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford, Mich.

“This is our entry into [the EMS market],” said Pentastar president Rick Maloney. “To be selected for the University of Michigan is a big deal for us.”

According to Maloney, the University of Michigan sought proposals for service providers more than a year ago. Survival Flight suffered a fatal accident on June 4, 2007, when the organization’s Cessna Citation II crashed shortly after takeoff from General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee during an organ delivery flight. Both pilots and four passengers were killed. The NTSB has not released the final report but is focusing on either a runaway trim problem or accidental switching on of the autopilot before takeoff, instead of the yaw damper. The flight was operated by charter company Marlin Air of Belleville, Mich. Pentastar took over the contract from Air Methods, which was operating Survival Flight following the accident, and hired many of the Air Methods personnel.

“I think [the university] looked at a lot of providers,” Maloney said. “It was looking for the safety culture, the history of good operations, customer service and support, and I think that’s why we were chosen.” University personnel visited Pentastar, he said, asking about the company’s focus on safety, processes and best practices and discussing the two organizations’ shared vision on how to run the EMS operation.

The contract with the university is for three years and covers the entire operation, including pilots and EMS crew, dispatching, training, insurance and operation of the aircraft.

Pentastar personnel are well aware of the safety issues underscored by the 2007 accident and of the many recommendations issued by the NTSB resulting from a high number of EMS accidents during the past few years. “We’re working to continue to evolve and address those issues,” Maloney said. “We have a more focused dispatch [group] to help with weather and location. Pilots and management people will help make decisions and make sure we’re adhering to standards, processes and procedures. We’re not going to compromise safety. We studied hard the recommendations from the NTSB and the FAA and will adopt almost every one.
There are good EMS operators, and we plan to be in that pack.”

Pentastar is currently working on IS-BAO certification (the IBAC’s International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations), which includes a safety-management system. “We’re focused on that like a laser beam,” Maloney said. Pentastar should receive IS-BAO approval in the fourth quarter of this year.

The EMS field is a good opportunity for Pentastar, according to Maloney. “It is an opportunity for future expansion. We are proud to be with the University of Michigan, but we will look for other quality operations that are interested in the Pentastar way. We’re focused on safety, operational integrity and customer support.
We’re interested to talk to people who are looking for a change of direction and want a best practices kind of approach.”