May 7, 2020

Renewed interest in the importance of medical specimen testing in the age of COVID-19 and the laboratories processing them throughout the country has also driven an increased focus on the logistics providers using business aircraft to ensure these critical packages arrive promptly at their destinations.

Ars Technica, a website for technologists, recently profiled the 23-aircraft fleet operated by Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest U.S. laboratories. Read “Appearing nightly, the Quest Diagnostics Air Force.”

On any given night, Quest’s fleet of Beechcraft Baron piston twins, Pilatus PC-12 turboprop singles and Embraer Phenom 100 light jets transport blood, tissue and urine specimens to the lab’s main hangar at Reading Regional Airport/Carl A. Spaatz Field (RDG) in Pennsylvania. All flights operate under the “LabQuest” call sign and are flown single-pilot IFR. Specimens are packed in patented soft-side coolers – to maximize use of all available payload volume in the aircraft – and must arrive at Quest’s processing facility no later than 2:00 a.m. local time to ensure their viability.

Formed in 1988 under the auspices of SmithKline Beecham with a small fleet of Cessna 310 piston twins and later TBM 700s and an Eclipse 500 at one point, the aviation operation for what later became Quest Diagnostics was one of a handful of private operators allowed to fly in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which makes the current, largely empty skies somewhat familiar territory for several of its pilots.

“We were just about the only ones in the air [immediately after 9/11] outside the government,” Scott Borton, Quest’s senior director for national air logistics, told Ars Technica. In fact, their planes were intercepted several times by fighters seeking positive identification, he added.

While Quest’s branded fleet operates primarily across the central and eastern United States, the company maintains a national presence with independent Part 135 operators performing similar flights to its labs in Western states. Review the profile of Quest on the No Plane No Gain website.