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Are Subscriber-Based Air Ambulance Services Always Feasible?

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Aviation Concepts, a jet management and charter company headquartered in Guam (not to be confused with Aviation Concepts Inc., a South Florida aviation parts and distribution company) has reportedly halted its membership-based “CareJet” air ambulance service to the Mariana Islands.

For some background, the Mariana Islands are a U.S.-controlled archipelago formed by a chain of volcanic mountains in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, just East of the deepest point on earth, the Mariana Trench.

Like many geographical regions composed of relatively isolated islands, air ambulance services are especially useful for transporting critical-care patients to advanced healthcare facilities.

AC had offered a subscription program which provided low-cost air ambulance coverage for residents of the Islands. However, it was discontinued when not enough residents of the Marianas signed up for the coverage.

Based purely on geography, it would seem that the Mariana Islands would be a prime location for an air ambulance service to operate. AC correctly recognized the need and the potential business opportunity, filling the vacuum with a world-class air ambulance service helmed by veteran pilots and air medical professionals.

So, what went wrong?

Despite the fact that air ambulance subscription services are nothing new, the average person may not consider air ambulance membership a necessity — assuming they’re unlikely to need it. Especially in the years following the global economic downturn of 2007 (when CareJet coincidentally started its services), an air ambulance subscription service might seem like just another added expense. Anyone who has ever required the medical transport services of an air ambulance in their hour of need would likely beg to differ with that ankle-deep reasoning, but the fact is that a subscription for any kind of medical service, no matter how low, is something that people are less likely to want to sign up for at the moment. Beyond that fact, air ambulance services are just one of those things that the average person is probably not aware of, let alone thinking about, until they are at a point where they require such a service for themselves or a family member.

The main wrench in the works for CareJet, however, may have ultimately been the very low population density of the Marianas, combined with the isolated nature of the islands. The total registered population in the Northern Mariana Islands is less than 54,000 people, over 48,000 of whom live on the largest island, Saipan. The ten most northerly islands have historically been more volcanic; essentially uninhabited by humans for many years (an April 2000 Census reported a population of 6 in all of the Northern Islands Municipality, which comprises a long string of roughly a dozen islands).

Most of the Northern Islands can only be reached by boat, except for a single airstrip on the island of Pagan (formerly owned by Japanese Empire during World War II — craters from heavy American bombing still line the runway and one can actually see a downed Zero rusting nearby on Google Earth). There is no electrical nor telecommunications infrastructure, with residents relying on portable generators for electricity and radio for communications.

With a population roughly mirroring the size of Sarasota, Florida (or 1/3 of Springfield, Missouri), spread out over a remote archipelago where the Philippine Sea blends into the North Pacific, separated by 1300 miles of water from Japan and the Philippines, you might think that a dedicated fixed-wing air ambulance service had little chance to get off the ground. CareJet didn’t only serve the Mariana Islands, however. They provided worldwide jet air ambulance service to residents and tourists in Guam, Japan, Australia, Micronesia, Korea, and other areas in Oceania and Asia. Last year, they had formed a partnership with a medical facility located in the Philippines to establish a dedicated fixed-wing air ambulance service.

Now that the air ambulance service subscriber program has been cancelled, Pacific business sources report that the company will be focusing on jet chartering and management operations. CareJet’s Westwind II fixed-wing air ambulance will presumably remain as an executive charter jet with the rest of the company’s fleet. We at Air Ambulance Weekly wish Aviation Concepts the best of luck with their future ventures.

Subscription-based air ambulance services are available in several countries. Are you a subscriber to an air ambulance membership program in your area, or would you ever consider signing up if you were presented with the option? Post your comments below and let us know!

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