Focus, Health Care, and Technology

Northern Jet Management launching patient transport service

The investment in Med-Pac equipment will allow fixed-wing transport of non-ambulatory patients.

March 29, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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Northern Jet Management launching patient transport service
Chuck Cox, CEO of Northern Jet Management, sits atop the Med-Pac equipment that can be placed in the company's jets for swift patient transport. Photo by Johnny Quirin
Northern Jet Management, a division of Northern Air at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, is about to ramp up its transportation services involving area hospitals and medical centers with the addition of Med-Pac equipment for jet aircraft.

“Jet aircraft transportation for both general and critical medical patients is necessary due to West Michigan becoming a nationally known medical destination,” said Jeff Anderson, president and chief operating officer. “As soon as we receive FAA approval, we can begin scheduling hospital and clinic patients using this new top-of-the-line medical transportation equipment.”

The public generally thinks of patient transport by air as being done mainly in helicopters, but those are usually emergency situations. In other cases, such as transporting a patient long distances from one hospital to another, jets are faster and able to fly over rough weather that would ground a helicopter.

For over a year, Northern Jet has been transporting medical teams picking up and delivering donated organs in the Gift of Life, beginning with heart transplants at Spectrum Health in late 2011.

Now Northern Jet has purchased a Med-Pac system, built by a Minnesota company, which will allow the it to transport seriously ill patients who are not ambulatory.

The state-of-the-art Med-Pac, which represents an investment of about $60,000, can be used in any of the company’s three Cessna Citation Bravo aircraft and placed into immediate service once the Federal Aviation Administration completes its process of certifying the necessary changes to the aircraft to accommodate the Med-Pac.

The Med-Pac is a lightweight device somewhat resembling a stretcher and made entirely of aircraft aluminum. It is far from a basic ambulance stretcher, however — more closely akin to a compact hospital bed. It is designed with internal systems that include a 3,300-liter oxygen cylinder, air pump, suction pump and electrical inverter for plugging into the aircraft electrical system.

The Med-Pac unit can accommodate adults as well as infants, and can be installed in or removed from an aircraft in 15 minutes or less. All that is required is FAA certification for each aircraft it might be used in, and mounting brackets installed in each aircraft.

The Med-Pac is currently approved by the FAA for use in more than 200 models of aircraft.

Chuck Cox, CEO of Northern Air and Northern Jet Management, said there are probably less than 50 medical fixed-wing aircraft in the U.S. Most are custom aircraft equipped specifically for use as medical transports, while the Med-Pac is the first system that allows an aircraft to be used for both routine passenger transportation and recumbent medical patients.

Cox said he anticipates Northern Jet will serve Spectrum Health, as well as other major hospitals in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.

“This is the first (jet medical transport) in this area,” he said.

He predicts that Northern Jet will eventually provide at least four to six medical air transports in the typical month. Service will also extend to Canada.

Cox said cost of a round-trip for transporting a patient from Gaylord to Grand Rapids would probably be in the range of $7,500.

Northern Jet’s medical transport “will actually be back-up” for the Cleveland Clinic’s air transport operations, according to Cox.

Northern Jet Management operates a fleet of 13 aircraft including the Bombardier LearJet 40XR and 45XR, Dassault Falcon 10, a 10-passenger long-range Falcon 2000EX, a Hawker 800 and the three Cessna Citation Bravos. The company has 34 pilots on its roster and can schedule flights for any time every day of the year.

It offers a number of services to businesses and individuals, including turnkey aircraft management, the Company Jet Fractional Ownership Program, Private Advantage Card Program, executive charters, and aircraft acquisition and sales.

Northern Jet is cleared to use more than 3,500 airports in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Currently, Northern Jet provides on-demand passenger transport service, and charters. Cox said business charters can allow a company to accomplish much more in one day than it would relying on commercial air travel, augmented by what often turns out to be time-consuming ground transport to and from the airport and the meeting location.

The majority of Northern Jet’s regular clientele are based in Chicago and Wisconsin, according to Cox. One Northern Jet aircraft is based in Chicago all the time, he added.

During the worst of the recession, Northern Jet Management flew about 15 percent less than normal but it is now back to the level of business it saw in 2007, according to Cox.

Kristy Watson, marketing manager at Northern Air/Northern Jet Management, said the national trend for business aviation is continuous growth in hours flown.

The new medical transport service will generally fly at a speed of about 400 knots, or about 465 miles per hour, at peak altitudes of 39,000 to 43,000 feet. Commercial airlines generally fly at 33,000 to 37,000 feet.

Northern Jet Management has been recognized as one of the Top 25 Commercial Business Flying Safety Award Winners by the National Business Aircraft Association, in view of its 18-plus years of accident-free flight.

The parent company, Northern Air Inc., is the FBO (fixed base operator) at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. An FBO provides fuel and concierge services as well as aircraft maintenance to private aircraft owners.

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