Weathering Covid-19, Air Ambulance Industry Seeks Relief

 - March 19, 2020, 10:31 PM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The Covid-19 crisis has not materially impacted the nation’s air ambulance industry yet, but an Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) request for relief suggests concerns of constraints lie ahead.

The nation’s largest provider, Air Methods, told AIN this week that the Covid-19 crisis has had minimal impact on operations, so far. Joseph Resnik, v-p of safety, said Covid-19 had not produced a spike in operations or any crew shortages. Nor had it caused any delays in providing service due to the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by crews or the need to implement Centers for Disease Control (CDC) decontamination protocols. “We continue to operate and serve our communities as we have prior to Covid-19,” he said. “Our crews are required to, and do, wear the appropriate PPE based on patient condition. Prior to Covid-19, there have been other patient conditions that require the same recommended PPE used for Covid-19 transports. We have always decontaminated our aircraft after transports where it is required as a best practice. It is considered a normal part of our business.”

Resnik added the company had no plans to consolidate any of its bases at this time. Air Methods operates 450 aircraft from 300 bases in 48 states. 

However, in an indicator that air ambulances operations in the U.S. may become strained soon due to Covid-19, AAMS requested various federal regulatory waivers and legislative assistance during the crisis. In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence this week, AAMS made its case for a variety of operational and financial relief for air ambulance operators. Pence is heading up the White House’s Covid-19 task force.

AAMS has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to exempt air medical flights from “any restriction on aviation” and to prioritize those flights in the event of limited air traffic control services. This includes positioning, shuttle, employee transfer, and other technical flights “necessary to facilitate the rapid provision of air ambulance transportation services.” AAMS also requested that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fund states to provide essential emergency healthcare providers with childcare reimbursement and that air ambulance crews receive the same access to Covid-19 PPE—including masks, gowns, gloves, shields, goggles, and disinfectants—as ground-based ambulances and first responders and receive tax credits for any such equipment acquired at an “unreasonably high price.”

AAMS warned that “The absence of protective equipment may prohibit the safe transport of any patient given the possibility of responding to a person for another medical/traumatic reason who also has exposure or symptoms of Covid-19.” The organization also lent its voice to requests from a variety of health care providers for a payroll tax holiday and exemption of employees from National Guard duty.