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Oct
21
2019

AIR EVAC LIFETEAM PILOTS HAVE A HIGHER CALLING

Posted 29 days ago ago by jhadmin


When a company is born from a desire to help others, its people carry that passion with them, no matter what their title.  Air Evac Lifeteam was established in 1985 by a group of citizens in West Plains, Missouri. Their desire was to provide air medical transportation and ensure access to a higher level of emergency health care for their remote community in the Ozarks. Back then, quick access to top-tier hospitals and health care was primarily confined to urban America. Air Evac Lifeteam founders believed that people living in rural areas needed that same rapid access to Level 1 and Level 2 health care centers that could best care for them.  


Fast forward 34 years and it’s apparent today that the Helicopter Air Ambulance (HAA) company foresaw and fulfills a need – a need that continues to grow with the closure of rural hospitals nationwide. Since 2010, 106 of America’s 1,700 rural hospitals closed. Air Evac Lifeteam operates more than 140 helicopter air ambulance bases across 15 states, and more than 90 percent of those bases are located in rural America because nearly 90 percent of patients transported by air medical services are from a rural zip code. 


Today, Air Evac Lifeteam is part of the Global Medical Response (GMR) family of companies, composed of industry leaders in air, ground, and managed medical transportation, and also leaders in fire services. 


In a medical emergency, a successful recovery often depends on the amount of time it takes to deliver the patient to the trauma center or advanced health care medical center. To save precious minutes, flight crews, consisting of a pilot, flight nurse, and flight paramedic, are on duty every day to respond to the scene of an emergency or to provide transportation between medical facilities. Air Evac Lifeteam works impartially with health care providers and first responders, including more than 2,000 diverse referral sources representing more than 1,000 hospitals and 1,000 EMS agencies. This ensures patients are transported to the closest appropriate medical facility.


Rotorcraft Pro recently interviewed Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter pilots to explore how all these numbers about hospitals and health care add up for an Air Evac Lifeteam pilot in the cockpit. The pilots expressed two main themes: their rewarding job is not just about numbers, but about getting everyone in their aircraft— medical crew, patient, and pilot—safely to their important destinations. Another repeated theme was that they really, really love being an Air Evac Lifeteam pilot. “One of the things I love about Air Evac Lifeteam is how they promote the family feel at each base. We spend a lot of time together. The family feel at each base is critical to our success,” says Pilot Tammie Gillette. “My favorite part about working for Air Evac Lifeteam is in the name; we’re a team. We travel, work, and live together. We all have the same goal—to help the patient. Over time, you get to know your team and develop a working rhythm. We work fast, not in a rushed way, but with intent. The team culture really fulfills me.”


Gillette has an interesting perspective as she transitioned from tour flying to HAA. “Tour flying was fun flying, but I feel like air ambulance flying is purposeful flying,” she says. “There’s definite pride in getting your crew to the places where they can have the most impact with their medical skills. We see people in great need and sometimes we’re their only way to get where they need to be. I feel honored to fly my medical crew. When you hear your crew behind you literally saving somebody’s life, you feel like you and your team are giving back to your community and making a difference.”


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Community


Those two words—“your community,”— have special meaning for Air Evac Lifeteam pilots. The company encourages its crews to become involved in the local communities where they are based. “Air Evac is a really community-based company. We are embedded and become part of the rural communities we serve,” says Pilot Forrest Crawford. This reaps practical benefits such as familiarizing residents with their locally based HAA provider and also familiarizing flight crews with the local terrain and area. It can also yield long-term benefits for the HAA provider. For example, it reaped them a fine, young pilot in Crawford. “Air Evac serviced the area where I grew up in rural Indiana. I used to see their aircraft flying overhead and at events. It was a no-brainer to come to the company that first inspired me to become a pilot. Now, we get to inspire the next generation. I’m living the dream I had as a kid,” he says.


Training


It’s one thing for a kid to dream of being an Air Evac Lifeteam pilot, but becoming one takes special training that the HAA operator has packed into a powerful, proprietary package. Crawford says, “I was really blown away by the level and amount of training we all first receive as a new hire. From a week of ground school to multiple in-air sessions a day the next week with Air Evac Lifeteam’s flight instructors. At the end of three weeks of training we finished with a Part 135 checkride conducted at night under NVGs. My Air Evac training was some of the best training I ever received; it’s very thorough under day and night conditions.”


Gillette, in a separate interview, echoes Crawford’s training praise. “As I went through Air Evac’s training, I found it amazing. We did a lot of night training. I’d never seen so much time and effort invested in pilots to make sure the pilot is ready to go into the field when they’re put on the schedule.”  


This positive praise continued ringing with other separately interviewed pilots.  Aviation Training Manager Greg Houska appreciates, but seemingly expects such ringing endorsements for Air Evac Lifeteam training. “We take (a trainee’s) core competency and train them to safely fly the way we want them to fly specifically for our HAA flying,” he says. “Air Evac Lifeteam’s leadership is not shy about investing in tools to keep our safety training at an elevated level. They place a very high priority on training, both for new hires and recurrent training.”


What are the basic ingredients in this training secret sauce? Air Evac Lifeteam Chief Pilot Tim Jenkins reveals the recipe. “A newly hired pilot can expect three weeks of initial training in our headquarters. They’ll get about 15 flight hours in one of the training aircraft, with about five hours in our simulator. (This is a Level-7 Frasca flight training device.) Training ends with a Part 135 night vision goggles (NVG) checkride.” However, newly trained Air Evac Lifeteam pilots are not recklessly thrown into action. Jenkins explains, “When a pilot gets to their first base, they’re shadowed and provided with resources to make sure they are comfortable until they are the sole pilot on shift. In addition to recurrent training every four months, we also bring every pilot back to headquarters every year for a two-day refresher and evaluation. We have a dedicated training department and cadre of training pilots.”


Safety Initiatives


Training is just a fraction, albeit an essential factor, of Air Evac Lifeteam’s safety initiatives.

“Safety is a top priority. In every meeting, the ‘safety coin’ is the first thing that comes out: Does anybody have any safety concerns? Every new hire gets a safety coin that they can carry with them. It’s a physical reminder of our safety culture. Everything we do is wrapped around safety,” says Doug Nash, one of Air Evac Lifeteam’s six regional directors.  “The company always looks for ways to take care of the crew. For example, we invested millions of dollars installing autopilot and HeliSAS in all our aircraft. We’ve also got glass cockpits and night vision goggles throughout our fleet, (primarily composed of Bell helicopters) We’re a visual flight rules (VFR) operator, and if we can keep that visual ability even at nighttime, it makes our crews safer.” In case that vision gets obscured, the company also invests time and resources into Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) training and Inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IIMC) recovery procedures. Chief Pilot Jenkins says, “We’re a VFR company, but we also put a lot of emphasis on IFR training."


KEY PERKS


  • 140+ bases in 15 states
  • 24 hour on-hitch housing provided
  • Fleet - Bell 206L4, Bell 407/407GXP, Gxi and Airbus EC130T2
  • Equipment - Genesys HeliSAS and 2-Axis Autopilot, G500H/650/1000 glass cockpits, SVT, HTAWS and ADS-B In/Out, ANVS 9 NVG's, & iPad EFBs
  • Competitive Pay and Benefits


Rewarding Career

 

There is about a 50/50 split in Air Evac Lifeteam pilots who come from civilian aviation backgrounds and those who transition from the military. This equal percentage reflects that both civilian pilots and former military pilots bring assets from their different backgrounds that fit nicely into Air Evac Lifeteam. Training Manager Houska says, “I had a civilian pilot background and a civilian-trained pilot can do very well here because they have typically flown light aircraft and can do single-pilot resource management very well.” Yet, the military pilot also may find that he or she is a good fit for Air Evac Lifeteam. “For those transitioning out of the military, we’re a good place to start your civilian career because we offer that camaraderie and family feeling you had in the military. You’re not going to get that in many civilian jobs, but we have it,” says Regional Director Nash. Whatever a pilot’s background they will find Air Evac Lifeteam’s compensation competitive, according to Jenkins. “Air Evac has really grown its pay and benefits over the years. Not only have we met the demands of pilots, but I believe we are actually exceeding that and leading the industry in what we provide pilots in pay and benefits,” he says. 


Pilot Don Pruett sums it up this way for prospective pilots. “I thought this would be a one- to two-year job, and I’ve been with Air Evac Lifeteam almost 11 years. So, they treat me pretty well. A new pilot coming to Air Evac needs to be able to work in close quarters with people because you live with your team members. Competence and confidence with the aircraft you’re piloting is also a must.” Then he concludes with an encouraging kicker, “If you’re looking to get into HAA, then Air Evac Lifeteam is definitely the way to go.”  


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