Most people who run business aviation companies have their hands full, but Ahmad Abu Ghazaleh, general manager of business jet charter and management firm Arab Wings, saw things differently, founding and launching a 35-floor, 206-bed, multi-specialty healthcare facility in Jordan's capital, Amman, in 2019. This gave Arab Wings, the country’s most established business aviation concern, the opportunity to develop new business in medevac operations.
“We put up a $350 million investment to build the nucleus of a healthcare system, called Abdali Hospital,” Abu Ghazaleh, who is executive vice chairman at the hospital, told AIN. “It has 120 clinics and specialized centers: everything from cardiology to neurology to orthopedics. It’s a group practice with multidisciplinary teams. We just obtained Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation.”
The rulebook of Jordan's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had to be rewritten to catch up with Arab Wings’ plans. “Jordan didn’t possess the civil aviation framework to certify an air ambulance,” he said. “We worked hand-in-hand with the Jordanian CAA. It took close to two years of paperwork, coming up with the civil aviation requirements and doing all the training. Finally, as of mid-October, we are a certified air ambulance operation.”
He believes expanding medevac operations into Jordan will cement its status as a healthcare tourism destination. “Historically, we’ve done a lot of flights from Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Saudi Arabia into Jordan,” he said. “We always used to do medevac, but without official certification. We thought that we needed to take the extra step and obtain it. Doctors in Jordan are the best in the Middle East. Air ambulance is absolutely necessary.”
Abu Ghazaleh expects the previous six medevac flights a month to increase with its new certification status. “It’s a safer bet going with a certified air ambulance, for companies like International SOS, for the government, for the international insurance companies,” he said. “Remember, there are a lot of international oil companies in Iraq, and many government agencies all over the Middle East. All will benefit.”
He sees medevac as adding a new set of options to Arab Wings’ toolkit. “We’ve already had offers: ‘Can we take your air ambulance for 50 or 60 hours a month for 12 months on lease?’” he said.
Abdali Hospital’s real potential lies in the fact that it is much bigger than medevac. As well as being a teaching hospital, it is the first digital hospital in Jordan. “We saw that opportunity,” he said. “Jordan has incredible physicians, nursing, and infrastructure, historically, because of the Royal Medical Services, and universities in Jordan that produce fantastic healthcare human capital. It was a no-brainer.”
As early as 2016, the World Bank said Jordan had “positioned itself as one of the top destinations for medical tourism, both regionally and internationally.”
Dr. Ahmed Hijjawi, the medevac program director at Abdali Hospital, told AIN that the facility’s highly qualified physicians are trained in the U.S., UK, and Australia to the latest international guidelines, policies, and procedures, as are nurses, pharmacists, and biomedical engineers. Competitive costs for medical services, coupled with the availability of natural health spas, such as the Dead Sea and Ma’een Falls, and natural mineral water sources were added attractions.
“Jordan’s strength lies in the high quality of its healthcare services,” he said. “Jordan today occupies the number-one position in the Middle East, and is one of the top 10 in the world for medical tourism.”
Jordan could be the future, Abu Ghazaleh believes. “You can’t build a new hospital in New York City or Paris,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult to build an affordable hospital in London. If you have British, European, or U.S. board physicians in places like Amman that are 20 percent of the cost, just because of the air travel, it makes a lot of sense.
“I really believe that healthcare is going to be globalized, ultimately, because the aging population is growing, and the infrastructure globally for healthcare is catching up. If you can connect cities and really make sure that everybody gets proper treatment, you’re in good shape going forward.”