At the most recent Air Medical Transport Conference, the Air Medical Physician Association (AMPA) board was informed of shocking recent developments that are seriously affecting air ambulances whose operations include transporting patients to and from Central America.
According to Dr. Eduardo Loyola, an AMPA member and medical director from Costa Rica, authorities in that country have discovered that drug cartels have begun to exploit air ambulances as part of their activities in Central America.
Dr. Loyola says the Costa Rican cartels have “discovered new and more sophisticated ways to support the logistics, fund the transport operations, and infiltrate key players” by using air medical operations.
When a helicopter used in air medical transport crashed recently in the Costa Rican jungle, it was discovered to have been carrying 400 kilos of cocaine on board.
Two days ago, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ jet touched down on the runway at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas. She had been transported from Tucson to Houston for her rehabilitation via an air ambulance. A news media frenzy followed the countdown to her take-off to her safe, uneventful landing. For some individuals, this was the first time hearing the term “air ambulance.”
Immediately, online news outlets, television networks, and newspaper pages across the country lit up with gleaming-but-true descriptions of high-tech “flying intensive care units.”
“It may look like an ordinary Lear jet, but this aircraft is anything but ordinary,” came the words from Som Lisaius, a reporter for KOLD News 13 in Phoenix, Arizona, in a story titled “ICU at 6000 feet.”
The province of Saskatchewan is rushing to quickly retrofit an old government executive plane into a third air ambulance. Coinciding with this, they are now mandating that two pilots be required on all air ambulance flights by the end of the year.
Following a small accident after an otherwise successful landing earlier this month, that caused a plane’s landing gear to hit deep snow and veer off the Maple Creek Airport runway into a window at 45mph (no patients were on board at the time – the pilot and two passengers were okay, only the nose and propeller were damaged), Saskatchewan has been left with only 2 air ambulances to cover the entire province – that’s over 227,000 square miles.
The FAA has already been encountering significant setbacks and budget overruns in its “NextGen” campaign to modernize the U.S. air traffic control system. Most recently, the busy agency has discovered that they may need to spend an extra $500 Million launching a major component that is already far behind schedule.
DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel wrote a letter to Congress this week that the FAA “faces several organizational, policy, logistical, and training challenges” in the completion and implementation of Lockheed Martin’s new GPS-based high-altitude Air Traffic Control system.
Completing the ERAM project, which the FAA had planned to have finished by the end of the year, could now take between 3 to 6 additional years, Scovel says. He added in his inspection findings that the cost escalation could force the agency “to reallocate funds from other modernization projects.” Unfortunately it will be a necessary move, as the Inspector General noted that over 200 problems have been found with the new software.
The Kansas City Star reports that the helicopter was responding to a call and had just lifted off its helipad, when, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, it lost one of its engines and crashed down on its helipad in the small town of La Monte (10 miles west of Sedalia, Missouri) only a few feet away from a container of jet fuel and a number of propane tanks.
The helicopter, operated by Air Methods, was about 200 feet in the air when the lost engine failed. Nearby fire departments, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and a hazmat team responded to the crash.