May 11, 2020

Volunteer pilot groups around the country are using business aircraft to fly COVID-19 test specimens from medical facilities to laboratories. These flights cut the wait time for results in half, which can help contain the virus by limiting exposure.

In Vermont, health and safety professionals used a business jet to fly test specimens from Burlington Airport to the Mayo Clinic Laboratories in Rochester, MN. Relying on the airlines to transport the tests was too unreliable, given the frequent cancellations and schedule changes. The effort brought together professions from the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center and Health Network, Vermont Department of Public Safety, Green Mountain Messenger, JV Air LLC and Heritage Flight.

Debra Leonard, M.D., PhD., chief of pathology and laboratory medicine for the UVM Health Network, reported that up to 600 test specimens a day can be transported by business jet, and test results can be received the same day.

Infected patients can begin treatment faster and in the event a patient’s test is negative, healthcare professionals can save valuable personal protective equipment (PPE) for use with other patients.

In the South, Angel Flight Soars, which usually transports passengers in need of life-changing treatment, continues to transport COVID-19 test specimens in Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee, in partnership with several health care facilities and test labs.

“Our volunteer pilots have flown over 50 COVID-19 test missions in the last five weeks alone,” said Jeanine Chambers, executive director at Angel Flight Soars. “We saw it as a very essential way to serve our community during this pandemic.”