BIGGIN HILL AIRPORT: STILL SAVING LIVES EVERY DAY
London Biggin Hill Airport may be well known as a former Battle of Britain Fighter Station when courageous airmen and women from all over the world fought to defend the lives of Londoners. Nowadays though, the Airport forms part of a vital emergency network to save lives in the UK and indeed all over the world, assisting those who are critically ill or injured.
The Airports flexibility, where operators are not constrained by runway slots, and its prime location just 12 miles from Central London means that barely a day goes by at Biggin Hill when a medical emergency flight does not at some point operate either into or out of the Airport.
From critically ill premature babies travelling with paediatric intensive care teams flying in, bound for Great Ormond Street, to British Nationals who have suffered accidents or illness overseas who have to be flown back to the UK bound for the specialist care of the top London hospitals, every day brings a new life-critical challenge for Biggin Hill.
On Friday morning for example, the life of a patient in a Birmingham hospital depended upon the Airport for the rapid transportation of a new heart that they were going to receive in a transplant operation mid morning. The donor heart was removed from a patient in Chatham in an operation that started at 0600hrs. It was then rushed by a rapid organ transport team by road to Biggin Hill and by 0900 it was flying safely on to Birmingham to save the life of its recipient. The transplant operation could then get underway at around 1100am.
Earlier in the week, another donor organ was also rushed to the Airport after a high speed transfer by police car. It was flown safely to its recipient in the North West of England.
When flying, medivac flights, as they are termed, are given the highest priority airways routings and airport slots the same privileges usually afforded to Heads of State.
Based Charter Operator, Interflight estimate that they operate about 100 medical emergency flights per year including repatriating Britons from overseas, plus transplant organs and specialist medical teams. Many of these are forced to return to Gatwick as the Airport cannot operate inbound medical emergency flights after hours (departures only are permitted) further from Central London where most of them are heading. Time is of vital importance to medical teams and longer journeys or unexpected delays can result in patient distress, or even render a donor organ unusable.
Gold Air International who operate a fleet of five corporate jets from Biggin Hill, including two new Learjet 45s, one of which is the only of its type in the world to be fitted with all the specialist equipment required to carry medical emergency patients, say that medivac work forms a great part of their business, more so now than ever before.
Chief Pilot, Captain William Curtis comments: It cost us £250,000 to equip our aircraft so that we can assist with saving lives. It is imperative to us that the Airport is fully able to operate for medical emergency flights, 24 hours per day, both in and outbound. Time in these cases is so critical.
Airport Director, Peter Lonergan said: There has been some discussion with our local authority about whether or not the Airport should be allowed to continue to operate medical emergency flights outside of our usual operating hours. We understand that the Council now wish to review this special operating permission which was agreed originally at a meeting of the Airport Consultative Committee in 1997 and take it away completely. We do, of course hope that they will continue to allow us to operate for such critical flights and will review the fact that currently departures only (which are typically noisier than arrivals) are permitted. Any movements outside of normal operating hours have to be reported to the London Borough of Bromley.
Most medivac flights usually do take place during the course of a normal day and within our existing operating hours. However, sometimes, we get requests to facilitate flights late at night or early in the morning. Although there were only half a dozen such flights in the last year, we know that these flights are only ever taking place because lives are at stake and if we are forced to turn them away, the consequences are of a very deep concern to us. If you are the relative of a patient depending upon a donor organ, or specialist care, then the ability to operate such a flight is of great importance indeed.
NB. We are regrettably unable to give further details of individual patients and cases discussed above in order to protect patient confidentiality.