Over 100 invited guests were on hand to see paramedics put the new air ambulance through its paces at a gala event in the Bauerfield airport VIP lounge on Thursday evening.
In a brief but heartfelt speech, former ProMedical boss Michael Benjamin said that when he started with the organisation, he had a list of short, medium and long term goals. A Vanuatu-based air ambulance ranked in a fourth ‘dream’ category.
“’I had a dream’ that one day Vanuatu would have its own ability to provide domestic and international areo medical retrievals. There were many who talked about it, but it never resulted in action until approximately 12 months ago,” he said.
Now, South Pacific Air Ambulance is born. The plane, a Merlin Metroliner, is a twin-engine turboprop aircraft capable of reaching Brisbane or Nouméa without refueling. It can access Sydney and Auckland with a pit stop in New Caledonia.
Guests were welcomed into the cabin, and witnessed an unusually ample space. One long-time aviator commented later that the plane offered a great deal more space than the typical medevac aircraft. In addition to flight crew, the plane can carry a patient, two medical attendants and depending on weight restrictions and flying distance, possibly a family member as well.
In his comments Thursday, Mr Benjamin estimated that having a locally-based medevac service will cut time to treatment for seriously injured or ill patients by an average of 7 hours. “This could save lives,” he said.
BRED Bank is a financial partner in the service. A company representative confided that they had been approached several times in the past, “but this is the first time someone actually came through.”
South Pacific Air Ambulance co-owner Julia Johnstone admitted on Tuesday that it took a while to find the right mix of features to make the project viable. “We spent two years researching the right aircraft to buy for the service we’re going to be offering.”
Based on the average number of medevacs annually, she is confident that the operation will be able to make meet its costs.
In an interview aired Thursday on the Buzz 96 FM Nightly News, she underlined that the service was being offered in partnership with ProMedical, which has been providing ambulance and paramedic services in Vanuatu for years now.
Additional certifications are required before the plane is cleared by national authorities to land in Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and elsewhere. The company is confident that they can be wheels up by the end of September, however.
There are about 225 Merlin Metroliners still in service around the globe, many operating in some of the most remote communities in the world. While it cannot land on every single one of Vanuatu’s airstrips, it can reach many of the main islands.
In addition to providing domestic service and international medevacs from Vanuatu, it is anticipated that the service will operate in Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Caledonia as well.