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Preparing for a Lifesaving Mission: Behind the Scenes with Universal Air Evac

Preparing for a Lifesaving Mission

When every second counts, Universal Air Evac is there, ready to provide critical air ambulance services to those in need. Behind our successful missions lies a meticulous preparation process that ensures the highest level of care and safety for our patients. 

We thought we would unpack what it takes to get our air ambulance crew assembled, prepared and ready to head off into the sky to repatriate a patient home. From clearances to customs, permissions, aircraft and equipment prep, here is a breakdown of the preparation process. 

Mission Alert, Information Gathering and Approval Stage

Every mission will begin with an alert of a new mission and patient who requires repatriation. Coordinators in the control centre will gather the relevant information about the patients and ensure financial approvals have been sought from the various bodies.  

Financial Approvals

Before alerting the ground and flight crew, Universal Air Evac will need to have the mission approved and know that the flight will be financed. This is usually completed through travel insurance, or the medical aid company of the patient, but has also historically been seen to be covered by the patient or their family.  

Essential Information

To ensure the highest levels of care during the mission, we request specific information regarding our patients and their travel companions. This critical information is needed to understand what is needed for the mission and to kick-start the preparation process to make sure it is a success. 

This information includes:

  • Full name of the patient and any accompanying travel companion as it appears on their passports, along with a copy of their passports (a clear photo taken with a mobile phone of the passport information page will suffice). This enables us to expedite the documentation process, ensuring accuracy and efficiency.
  • Patient details such as gender, age, date of birth, nationality, height, and weight. These details assist our medical team in customising the care provided during the journey.
  • A diagnosis and current medical report, preferably less than 24 hours old. This invaluable information helps our medical professionals fully comprehend the patient's condition and implement appropriate medical interventions.
  • Contact information of the current treating medical facility, as well as the name and contacts of the local doctor. These details are crucial as they may be contacted by relevant governmental authorities, ensuring seamless communication and cooperation throughout the mission.
  • Current location details, including the hospital's street address, city, and country. This allows us to efficiently coordinate the logistics of the mission and plan for a smooth transfer.
  • Contact information of the receiving medical facility and the receiving doctor's name and contacts. By establishing a direct line of communication, we ensure a seamless handover and continuity of care upon arrival.
  • Passport. We need to find out if you still have your passport, or similar identification in your possession to alert relevant authorities should it have been lost or misappropriated in the incident. 

Alerting and Activating Our Dedicated Crew

At the core of our operations are the incredible individuals who form our crew. Highly skilled and dedicated, they are always prepared to respond swiftly to any emergency. When a mission arises, we promptly alert and activate our crew, ensuring that they are ready to provide the necessary medical expertise, compassion, and support throughout the journey.

The majority of cases are treated on an urgent basis, but it is important to know that the mission will need to be approved before the crew are activated. From time of activation to take-off, it usually takes about two hours, depending on the mission and various circumstances. However, all air and ground crew will be activated and move to the airport to start simultaneously completing their preparation for the flight.

Flight Preparation 

All members of various departments will now be working simultaneously to prepare for the flight. While the flight crew, doctors and pilots move toward the airport, our dedicated ground staff will be gaining air and airport clearances as well as getting customs and immigration approvals for all equipment on the aircraft. 

The various preparations include:
1. Packing Equipment
A wide selection of drugs and equipment need to be prepared and packed onto the aircraft to treat the patient. Although the crew and doctors may have insight into the patient's condition, they will need to be prepared for any eventuality and for the patient's condition to change or worsen en route. 

The air ambulance is fully equipped to transport, monitor and provide critical care for both adult and paediatric patients at the ICU level of care. All equipment is approved for use onboard an aircraft.
Equipment includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Full real-time vital signs monitoring capabilities
  • Defibrillator and pacing capabilities.
  • Ventilator and advanced airway management equipment
  • Infusion pumps and advanced intravenous and intraosseous access equipment
  • Portable Blood chemistry analyser
  • Oxygen and portable oxygen concentrators
  • Emergency medications
  • Medications commonly required in ICU settings, including analgesia, antibiotics and RSI drugs.
  • Immobilisation equipment
  • Portable Patient Isolation Unit
  • Access to emergency blood products if required.


2. Preparing the Aircraft 
While the equipment is being packed, doctors and flight crew are preparing to treat the patients, the pilots prepare the aircraft. Not only will the aircraft need to be refuelled, and all systems checked, the pilots will need to go through the comprehensive process of pre-flight checks. 

While the aircraft at Universal Air Evac are meticulously maintained, and regularly checked on the ground before and after all flights, it is compulsory for the pilots to conduct their critical checks before taking off. 

3. Securing International Flight Clearances
Before departure, we diligently work to secure clearances from all countries we will be flying through or landing in. This comprehensive process guarantees a smooth passage, allowing us to focus solely on the well-being of our patients. 

Cross-border trips throughout Africa require permission and clearances for every country that the aircraft flies through. So, should it be European repatriation, clearances will need to be received from several countries that the aircraft will fly over. Customs will also be alerted and approval gained for all equipment on the aircraft. And immigration will need to be alerted to all crew who will be exiting and re-entering the country on the flight. 

4. Ensuring Ground Support and Ambulance Arrangements
As part of our comprehensive mission planning, we confirm the availability of local ground ambulances to assist with the movement of the patient and our medical flight crew. If needed, Universal Air Evac can arrange for ground ambulance services, ensuring a seamless transfer between medical facilities.

The Bottom Line

Preparation for an air ambulance flight is a comprehensive and detailed process, involving everyone in the company, and bringing them together to make sure the flight is a success. Critical information, if fed into the company earlier, can help streamline the process and reduce the waiting time and approval process. At Universal Air Evac, we have been working together with all partners for years, and have managed to refine the process to ensure that each and every one is streamlined, seamless and successful. Every time.