Types of Medical Flights and Aero Ambulances

The use of aeromedical services has become an essential component of the health system. The air transport of patients is a reality that is becoming more and more frequent.

Aeromedical services is a comprehensive term that covers the use of air transport, airplane or helicopter, to move patients to and from health care facilities and accident sites. Personnel provide comprehensive pre-hospital, emergency and critical care to all types of patients during aeromedical evacuation or rescue operations aboard helicopters and propeller or jet aircraft.

The union of aviation and medicine has crossed the boundaries of intensive care units beyond hospital facilities. In the past decade, the transport of patients to hospital units and the use of the efficiency of the air environment for patient transport have clearly increased.

Today, the air medical services industry is expanding worldwide, mainly because it is the safest and fastest transportation option for patients who are too sick or weak to withstand the rigors of commercial flights.

In addition, these services have access to a wide range of aircraft suitable for medical transport and evacuation, capable of transporting patients and families along with specialized medical personnel such as jets, turboprops and helicopters.

Turboprop Aircraft

Turboprop air ambulances are somewhat slower than jet-propelled ambulances, but they offer a considerable economic advantage and can land at regional airfields with short runways, which are often not sufficient for jet planes.

This way, models such as the Beechcraft, King Air 90, King Air 200, Piper Cheyenne or others manage to get close to their goal much faster.


The most common medical jets, such as the Learjet, Citation Bravo, Citation Mustang, Bombardier Challenger, Boeing Business Jet, Hawker or Embraer Phenom, reach high speeds and have sufficient range to perform particularly fast patient transfers or intercontinental repatriations.

The function of this type of medical transport is vital in today’s society, especially in critical operations where time is a key factor to fight against. The efficiency and also the priority given by traffic control to this type of flights are very high and at the same time important for us to be able to save as many lives as possible.


Helicopters have revolutionized the concept of assisted evacuation, due to the great variety of features they offer: they are a means of transport that has no physical barriers that prevent it from reaching any place. They can access wooded areas, mountains, jungles, among others, without the need for a shuttle ambulance. With straight line journeys that avoid the turns that roads make and the congestion that exists on them, they can transport patients over long distances so that they can receive definitive assistance in a short period of time.

Jets and turboprop aircraft, on the other hand, are limited by the fact that they can only travel between airports and are therefore mainly used for transfers between hospitals. They are not usually used for the transfer of emergency victims because they require the participation of ground ambulances to move patients between the scene of the episode, the aircraft and the destination hospital.

Among the most outstanding helicopter models for carrying out these tasks are the Eurocopter EC145, Eurocopter EC135, Bell 412, Eurocopter AS365 Dauphi, AgustaWestland AW109, among others.

Among the types of transportation that these aircraft can perform are the following.

Medical Escort

It is a non-emergency medical service provided by commercial aircraft, medical escort companies and sometimes independent medical escort workers, who usually work for a medical repatriation company.

Air Ambulance

This is a specially equipped helicopter or fixed wing aircraft that transports injured or sick people in a medical emergency or over distances or terrain impractical for a conventional ground ambulance. Like ground ambulances, air ambulances are equipped with vital medical equipment to monitor and treat injured or ill patients, including medications, ventilators, ECG and monitoring units, CPR equipment and stretchers.

Sanitary Flights

The objective of the sanitary flights is the transfer and sanitary attention of injured or sick people. The aircraft are equipped as airborne intensive care units.

Health missions are divided into primary aeromedical evacuations, when action is required and evacuation from the place where the victim is located, and secondary evacuations, which are carried out from less complex centers to more advanced institutions.

It is important to note that a sanitary transfer only applies to medical emergencies, and according to the considerations determined by the doctor.


It comes from the combination of MEDICA and EVACUATION, meaning Medical Evacuation, the transfer of seriously injured patients to a specialized hospital.

By means of the MEDEVAC it is possible to quickly transport seriously injured people from where their injury has occurred to a place where they can be treated in the most efficient way. Another example is when the rugged terrain does not even allow access by road, and medical evacuation must be done on foot to a place accessible to an air or land ambulance.

Passenger Repatriation

These are flights whose main objective is to transport passengers who are injured or stranded in a foreign country to their country of origin.

In the case of repatriation flights, the arrangements are now in the hands of the embassies or consulates of the countries of origin of the people interested in getting a seat on one of the flights.

Repatriation of Bodies

It occurs when the death occurs in a different place than where the person is to be buried, either nationally or internationally. It is the term used when a deceased person is transferred to his/her country of origin. In these cases, funeral homes are responsible for providing support by liaising with the country’s embassy, airlines and forensic officers on behalf of the family.

Organ Transport

Organ transplantation is one of the most delicate activities in medicine, since great care must be taken both when removing it, transporting it and when accommodating it in the new body.

The process begins when a potential donor is identified, in which case the hospital or medical center contacts the transplant organization or the hospital where a person is waiting for an organ. Once the most suitable recipient is located, the most suitable means of transport is decided for the mobilization and delivery of the organ in optimal and timely conditions.

For short distances a land ambulance is usually used, while air transport is used for journeys longer than two hours.

Organs have a life span outside the human body, so time becomes a determining variable in saving a life and this requires a high level of coordination and synchronization.

Neonatal Transport

The objective of neonatal transport is to transfer the newborn to a specialized center that has the infrastructure and experience necessary for counseling and treatment.

This type of transfer requires qualified personnel and specialized equipment that is designed to meet the needs of newborns. The organization of the team varies from region to region and from hospital to hospital, so the equipment needs to be adapted to each situation. Typically, aircraft for these tasks are perfectly equipped with an incubator with good access to the baby, a vital signs monitor that shows oxygen saturation, ECG, respiration, CO2 removal, a ventilator that provides respiratory support and infusion pumps to administer medication.

Search and Rescue Flights

This operation aims to find someone who is thought to be lost, sick or injured in remote or inaccessible areas.

It should be kept in mind that every minute spent caring for the patient will be reflected in his or her evolution. For this reason, each step of the assessment and care must be carried out quickly and efficiently.

The rescue tasks are regularly classified by the environment in which they are carried out, among the main ones are the following: Mountain rescue, urban search and rescue, search and rescue in collapsed structures, combat search and rescue, maritime rescue by air, ditch rescue and cave rescue.

Humanitarian Aid

These are safe and reliable air passenger and cargo services for the entire humanitarian community, especially to remote locations where due to lack of infrastructure and insecurity there are no commercial alternatives.

These flights are available to the staff of all humanitarian organizations; whether they are UN agencies, humanitarian non-governmental organizations or institutions of the donor community. Equal access is given to all humanitarian agencies on a first-come, first-served basis. The service is fully demand-driven, responding to the requirements of the established humanitarian community through user groups in different country operations.

In the face of local, regional or national emergencies, helicopter and aircraft aeromedical services provide much-needed and highly experienced resources that can be rapidly deployed in both natural and man-made disaster situations.

Today, air medical transport is essential to cope with any emergency. It is practically essential in many disaster situations, both for locating, rescuing and evacuating patients and for bringing material and equipment closer to the affected area. It is an important complement to ground transportation, both of which are one of the fundamental links in pre-hospital medical action.

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