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Flight Crews: Planning for Inflight Medical Emergencies

Like so much in business aviation, pre-flight planning for an inflight medical emergency should be part of every operator’s coordination before a flight departs.

Industry professionals agree that on domestic routes – and especially on international flights – every person on the crew should intuitively know what to do when a business aircraft passenger suffers a medical emergency in flight.

“Plan ahead as much as possible and know what your resources are before you need them,” said Brian Abrahamson, a flight scheduling and operations manager for a flight department that operates Gulfstreams and Sikorsky S-76s.

“Train on and test these resources regularly,” advised Abrahamson, “so that every member of the team is familiar with what the available resources are, when to use them and how they work. It’s important that everyone on the team is trained so resources can be utilized effectively if/when the situation arises.”

“You don’t want the first time you pick up your emergency response plan or crack open your medical kit to be when you’re responding to an emergency.”

ANNA VELDMAN International pilot and licensed dispatcher at a Fortune 100 company

Anna Veldman, an international SIC on a Gulfstream 550 and FAA-licensed dispatcher at a Fortune 100 company, concurs that planning and training are two most important elements of a flight department’s response to medical emergencies en route.

“As with most things in aviation, preparation is key,” said Veldman. “You don’t want the first time you pick up your emergency response plan or crack open your medical kit to be when you’re responding to an emergency. Take advantage of downtime to brush up on your company documents. Be familiar with your available resources, and make sure every crew member knows their role,” she added.

Abrahamson said his department maintains a very strong Incident Management Plan (IMP).

“The IMP is our playbook for any type of emergency that comes up,” explained Abrahamson. “We review and test the IMP regularly at both the manager and full department levels,” he said.

Both Abrahamson and Veldman said their business aircraft carry specific equipment to handle medical emergencies, including MedAire kits to connect via phone with a medical professional in flight, along with Tempus units.

“The Tempus unit essentially brings the doctor into the aircraft and includes multiple monitoring devices, including an EKG,” explained Veldman. “This allows active observation of the patient in flight and provides our crews with a better ability to assess the passenger’s needs.”

When a medical emergency arises, Abrahamson said rapid communication is essential.

“We are flight-followed through Satcom Direct and ITPS (for international flights), which allows an additional level of communications for the crew in case something comes up,” Abrahamson said.

Veldman noted that pilots should always be prepared to make emergency diversions, and that her company’s flight department enjoys additional emergency response protection since all crewmembers are CPR/AED/First Aid certified.

As part of her department’s ongoing training, Veldman said her team recently ran an exercise based on a scenario where a passenger became severely sick with COVID mid-flight over the Atlantic.

“You’d be surprised how many questions can arise when you deep dive into a situation you think you could solve on autopilot,” she said.

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