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A MAGAZINE FOR THE OWNER/PILOT OF KING AIR AIRCRAFT

APRIL 2014 • VOLUME 8, NUMBER 4 • $4.50

Flying the Outback

King Airs Bring Healthcare to Rural Australia

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“Help is Here” Royal Flying Doctor Service uses King Airs to take medical care to remote Australia by MeLinda Schnyder

T

he Royal Flying Doctor Service’s mission is to ensure that nobody in Australia is more than two hours away from medical care. To make that happen on a geographically

challenging continent requires more than 60 aircraft, including a large fleet of Beechcraft King Airs.

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Magnus Badger has just landed on a dirt runway next to a homestead on a remote sheep ranch in the far west corner of the Australian state of New South Wales. He’s brought a doctor and nurse and other health professionals on a King Air B200C to see patients as part of a monthly healthcare clinic. While the medical professionals see 15-20 rural citizens in a small station on the homeowner’s property, Badger has time for a telephone interview about his job.

covers New South Wales, as well as parts of Queensland and South Australia – an area roughly twice the size of France.

In addition to transporting medical specialists to two clinics, his week has included transferring patients from small treatment centers to larger hospitals and four emergency flights, including responding to a vehicle accident involving tourists in a remote area.

“I like the people and the flying is a challenge. You get rung up to go to short strips and little station properties. I’ve been here 25 years and we’re still going to ones I’ve never been to before,” Badger said. “These airstrips aren’t like airstrips you’d see in America – they’ve been just cut out of the ground by a few grater blades.”

Badger has flown for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) for 25 years, and is now a senior pilot at Broken Hill – one of five bases from which the southeastern section of the RFDS flies. The southeastern section

Before joining RFDS in 1988, Badger flew Cessna 402s for an air freight service company and also flew corporate transport for an engineering company. A 13,500-hour pilot, Badger adds about 400-430 flight hours each year via his RFDS duties.

These conditions explain why the southeastern section uses a 100-percent King Air fleet, with 19 aircraft that fly more than three million miles each year, which is the equivalent of going to the moon and back six-and-ahalf times. About 95 percent of airstrips in the remote areas are dirt, and some are as short as 2,900 feet. These airstrips are for emergency purposes and are not routinely used, so it is up to land owners to keep them in good condition. Before a landing, the owner makes a “roo run” – driving an automobile along the airstrip to clear the area of kangaroos and other animals that could interfere with the airplane.

Nationally, the Royal Flying Doctor Service averages 200 landings and 45,000 miles every day with more than 60 aircraft in its fleet, including this King Air. David Charlton, general manager – operations for the southeastern section, reports a 99.7 percent dispatch rate among the section’s 19 King Airs.

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feet) dirt strips. It’s fast and it’s pressurized – both important in emergency situations when you might have a patient with an eye injury or trauma to the brain or stomach.”

A History of Service RFDS is an 86-year-old non-profit organization that relies on government funding and donations from the community. Six sections – including the southeastern section – report up through a national office. The service made its first official flight on May 17, 1928, when Reverend John Flynn, a visionary minister in the Presbyterian Church, who dreamed of throwing “a mantle of safety” over Australia, contracted with Qantas to provide a pilot and a De Havilland model DH50 aircraft to deliver medical care to remote areas. Today a major international airline, Qantas was in those days still a small bush airline, known as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service (Q.A.N.T.A.S.).

Aircraft in the Royal Flying Doctor Service since 2008 feature a hydraulically operated cargo door and overhead stretcher lifting device, as opposed to a loading system using slides and ramps.

“The King Air is a really strong aircraft,” Badger said. “It’s got a strong undercarriage that’s needed when we land in some pretty rough areas, like 900-meter (2,590

In the first year, 50 flights flew 18,000 miles and treated 225 patients. Since then, the service has grown into one of the most respected aeromedical organizations in the world. Last year, RFDS provided medical assistance to more than 295,000 people from its 21 bases across Australia. Until the 1960s, RFDS used contractors to provide aircraft, pilots and servicing. Today, it has a fleet of more than 60 aircraft and employs its own pilots and maintenance technicians.

Buy the Sky The Royal Flying Doctor Service is offering supporters the chance to have their own personal Flying Doctor experience by purchasing and naming a patch of sky along selected f light paths across Australia. For a $50AUD taxdeductible donation, supporters can choose a one kilometer square patch of virtual sky with specific coordinates. Supporters get a digital certificate showing their name in the sky and the patch coordinates, and they will receive updates about RFDS activity taking place on their flight path through ongoing communication from the charity. Once a patch has been bought, supporters can opt in to receive weekly flight updates via social media or email once Royal Flying Doctor Service airplanes have passed through their very own slice of Australian sky. Visit buythesky.com.au for more information.  4 • ­KING AIR MAGAZINE

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Patient transfers like this at the Broken Hill Base in the southeastern section are one of the services provided by the Royal Flying Doctor Service and its King Airs.

To support its mission – that nobody in Australia be more than two hours away from medical care – the Royal Flying Doctor Service now covers about 80 percent of Australia. The services are a lifeline to those who live, work or travel in rural and remote areas of Australia – an area the size of the United States, but with a population of only 20 million. Nearly 90 percent of Australia’s citizens live on the coastal fringes, where all the major cities are located. The other 10 percent live in either the bush, defined as regional areas outside the main cities, or the outback, a large desert-like region in the center of the country that mainly consists of isolated cattle stations – or farms – and mining operations.

An All-King Air Fleet Of the southeastern section’s 19 aircraft, two are King Air 350Cs and the remainder are a variety of B200s.

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The 350s are based in Sydney and typically are used as patient transports when the smaller B200 would require a fuel stop. RFDS can configure its King Air B200s to suit the task: clinic aircraft have seating for eight passengers with limited space for equipment and aeromedical or retrieval aircraft can have up to three passenger seats with room for two stretchers and advanced acute care equipment. David Charlton, general manager – operations for the southeastern section, said RFDS is scheduled to take delivery this spring of the last King Air B200C to roll off the Beechcraft production line. RFDS receives slick aircraft with a cargo door installed, then has an Australian subcontractor fit the airplane with a US$1.14 million specialized medical interior that includes plumbing, a flat floor, cabinets for medical equipment and interior coverings that can be cleaned and sterilized after each mission. Aircraft in service since 2008 feature a hydraulically operated cargo door and overhead stretcher lifting device, as opposed to a load­ ing system using slides and ramps.

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Until the 1960s, Royal Flying Doctor Service used contractors to provide aircraft, pilots and servicing. Today, it has a fleet of more than 60 aircraft and employs its own pilots and maintenance technicians. Here a King Air B200 arrives at Tibooburra from Moomba.

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Magnus Badger, a Royal Flying Doctor Service pilot for the past 25 years, is met by locals after landing on the dirt strip runway at Wiawera Station in the southeastern section of Australia. Badger is one of 49 pilots employed by the southeastern section of RFDS.

“It’s a unique Australian-developed loading system that’s compatible with ground ambulances,” Charlton said. “It’s a highly specific system that’s safe for our patients and our team, and it reduces the amount of times a patient might have to move from stretcher to stretcher.”

“There’s a balance of performance and operational requirements that only the King Air offers. We can’t see a replacement for the King Air at this time, other than more King Airs.” The average age of the fleet is just under 10 years. Charlton said, “When they hit the 10-year mark, we revert them back to clinical work, which is less arduous. Some of our aeromedical aircraft fly up to 1,500 hours a year while other clinical aircraft are doing only 400 – this is our way of balancing them out for a 20-year lifecycle.” RFDS has a fleet renewal plan that mixes upgrading, selling and buying aircraft. Charlton said a goal is to get five subtypes of King Air aircraft down to three in order to streamline operations for pilots and inhouse maintenance crews. “We do all of the heavy 8 • ­KING AIR MAGAZINE

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RFDS can configure its King Air B200s to suit the task: clinic aircraft have seating for eight passengers with limited space for equipment and aeromedical or retrieval aircraft can have up to three passenger seats with room for two stretchers and advanced acute care equipment.

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maintenance and we have our own unique system of maintenance that reflects a high-utilization operation as well as the aeromedical interiors we must maintain,” said Charlton, who leads a group of 49 pilots along with maintenance and flight operations teams and reports a 99.7 percent dispatch rate. Each of the six RFDS sections use King Airs, although some have a mixed fleet that includes PC-12 Pilatus, Cessna Grand Caravan C208 and Hawker 800XP aircraft. “The King Air is a fantastic machine and we can’t see any point in operating anything else,” Charlton said. “There’s a balance of performance and operational requirements that only the King Air offers. We can’t see a replacement for the King Air at this time, other than more King Airs.”

More Than a Flying Ambulance On any day of any week, a RFDS airplane is taking off or landing on a remote airstrip or isolated stretch of highway somewhere in Australia – thanks to the robust 10 • ­KING AIR MAGAZINE

structure of the King Air and the special modifications done for the RFDS. Nationally, RFDS averages 200 landings and 45,000 miles every day. But pilots and management point out that the aircraft is just one element of a well-orchestrated system that makes RFDS work: the airplane is the transport platform allowing RFDS to provide the safest, most time efficient and cost-effective delivery of health services. Many think of emergency evacuation when they think of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but over the years RFDS has grown to provide comprehensive health service, including promotion and preventative screening. For example, the southeastern section conducted more than 600 emergency evacuations during the 2012-2013 operational year and more than 8,000 patient transfers. Their healthcare specialists and general practitioners organized more than 4,700 clinics and saw 40,000 patients. Medical professionals held 5,000 over-the-phone consultations. Badger said he regularly takes specialists along with general APRIL 2014


Last year, RFDS provided medical assistance to more than 295,000 people from its 21 bases across Australia. Here an RFDS King Air is parked in front of the Wiawera Station clinic.

practitioners on flights to rural st ations, including dentist s, psychologists, drug and alcohol counselors, dermatologists and ophthalmologists, to name a few. Charlton added that in these ways, and many others, R FDS closes the gap between city and country healthcare. “The sound of a King Air is synonymous with ‘help is here.’ It’s not just the airplane, it’s the system of service that comes with the aircraft – whether it’s an emergency situation or it’s a family’s one chance that year to see a dentist or an eye doctor,” Charlton said. KA

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Cover article for April 2014 King Air magazine