The New Zealand Emergency Air Service is inviting people living in Wairarapa to ‘book a flight’ on the service it hopes you never need to use to help raise the final half a million dollars to fund its new fleet of three air ambulance planes.
Life Flight, which also operates the Westpac rescue helicopter and assists an average of 1200 people a year in Aotearoa, has replaced its two existing and ageing J32 aircraft with three newer Beechcraft King Air B200Cs.
At a cost of over $7 million, the new fleet will provide a more responsive, sustainable, and equitable emergency air service, Life Flight’s development manager Gavin McLellan said.
The J32s are over 30 years old and now out of production, McLellan explained. Built in Prestwick, Scotland by British Aerospace they were “actually passenger jets converted into air ambulances”, he said.
The “much younger, fresher” King Air “has completely new avionics, so instead of analogue, it is completely digital. The cockpit is lightyears ahead.”
They fly faster and higher than the J32s, shaving 10 minutes off a journey to Auckland, “which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it does mean an awful lot when you are in a life-critical emergency”.
King Airs can also land on grass airstrips of more than 1000m, “which would mean landings in Dannevirke are possible now”, McLellan said.
In the 12 months to December 1, 204 patients from Wairarapa used the Life Flight service – 131 of whom were flown in the air ambulance fleet. The majority of patients – 133 – were from Masterton, and 25 of all patients were babies or young children.
The Westpac rescue helicopter was most recently called out to an accident on Fabians Road in South Wairarapa on Saturday involving a “lucky young man” who was airlifted to Wellington Hospital.
While the Westpac chopper is a very visible part of Life Flight’s service, “broadly speaking, for every helicopter mission, there are about three plane missions, so they are much more active across the whole country”, McLellan said.
Life Flight acquired the King Airs from the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and “adopted them for our specific purposes and compliance, particularly for the incubators fit-out”.
A key beneficial feature of the new aircraft is the large cargo door, which enables a mechanical loading arm to lift patients and equipment up to 300kg in weight onto the plane.
Life Flight anticipates increased demand for its services because of increasing critical care capacity in Wellington hospitals and continued consolidation of medical specialists and equipment in one or two hospitals in the country.
Because of factors like the country’s topography, distances between urban centres, and a dispersed rural population, “we need to have a very, very good air ambulance service to make sure that anyone in the country can access that service”, McLellan said.
The three new aircraft will help “narrow that gap and be able to reach people”, McLellan said. “And for Wairarapa, that means more flights to Masterton Hood Aerodrome and more transfers.”
For more information on the Book a Life Flight campaign, visit www.bookalifeflight.nz