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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 1, 2006

AirMed Hawaii seeks permit

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

A company offering medical charter flights between Hawai'i and the Mainland and other countries has filed an application for an emergency certificate of need from the state to provide interisland service for patients.

AirMed Hawaii LLC, a subsidiary of AirMed International, based in Birmingham, Ala., filed the application Wednesday with the State Health Planning and Development Agency. The company has been providing long-range transportation for patients in Hawai'i for two years, and is headed locally by Sandra Apter, who worked at Hawaii Air Ambulance for 23 years before leaving in 2003 after serving as president and chief executive officer.

Hawaii Air Ambulance, the state-approved provider of interisland aeromedical services, voluntarily grounded its fleet of four Cessna 414As after one of its planes crashed on Maui on March 8, killing three crew members. It was the company's second fatal crash in a little more than two years. In January 2004, a Hawaii Air Ambulance plane crashed on the Big Island, also killing three crew members.

The company is having its planes inspected in an effort to reassure employees and the public of its safe operations, and the Federal Aviation Administration is inspecting company records.

Hawaii Air Ambulance Chairman and CEO Andrew Kluger said Thursday he expects his planes to be back in the air "within days."

"Our employees are eager to start flying again. We are doing everything we can to facilitate the voluntary inspections of our aircraft in a responsible manner, but we will not rush this important process," Kluger said in a statement.

While Hawaii Air Ambulance is grounded, the U.S. Coast Guard has been flying critical-care patients from the Neighbor Islands to O'ahu.

AirMed Hawaii is proposing to temporarily use a Hawker 800 jet for interisland transports before a Beechcraft twin-propeller King Air C-90 could be ferried to O'ahu in mid-April. A backup King Air could be in-state within 30 days, Apter said.

To offset the expense of starting the service, the company wants to be allowed to operate for two years under the emergency certification of need.

The state has 10 days to review an emergency application. If approved, the jet could be in operation in two to three days, Apter said.

Pilots would come from the Mainland with the aircraft, but local pilots would be hired and trained, she said. Hawai'i-based medical staff are "all ready to go," Apter said.

She said that AirMed Hawaii filed a letter of intent to start service in 2004 after the Big Island crash, but was told that state officials would not support its efforts because of concerns the competition would weaken Hawaii Air Ambulance, which has been flying for 27 years.

Because Hawai'i is a small market, state law requires major medical facilities and services to obtain certificates of need to protect existing care. The process involves public hearings.

"There was a fear of having two air ambulances in service. State officials thought one would go out of business. We feel there is enough work that we could augment the existing program," Apter said.

She would not comment on whether Hawaii Air Ambulance is providing adequate service.

The state Department of Health is not involved in the review process, and spokeswoman Janice Okubo said health officials are not taking a position on whether a second provider would be welcomed. "Without knowing the details it's hard for us to make that judgment," Okubo said.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.