What is an Air Ambulance?

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  • Written By: J.Gunsch
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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An air ambulance is an aircraft equipped to handle medical emergencies. Helicopters, jets and cargo planes are a few of the types of aircraft that are often used as an air ambulance. The air ambulance is designed to meet the needs of critically wounded or critically ill patients who are located in an area that a land vehicle cannot easily reach. An air ambulance may also be used when a patient requires medical care that a local hospital cannot provide in order to move the patient quickly to another facility.

Air ambulances are furnished with life saving medical equipment, such as respirators, medications, portable resuscitation equipment, stretchers, braces, bandages and so on. An air ambulance also has a highly trained crew. Health care professionals who work on an air ambulance include emergency medical technicians (EMT), a flight nurse and often a physician due to the severity of injuries that usually call for an air ambulance. The pilot of the air ambulance is also highly trained, since rescues often require maneuvers of the aircraft that are not common in non emergency flights.


In recreational regions with difficult terrain or in coastal towns, air ambulances are often designed to provide optimal treatment for common injuries associated with the particular environment. For example, a place that attracts many visitors for rock climbing may be more likely to possess an air ambulance than a region located in the plains. This region’s air ambulance will likely be optimized to treat specific injuries from high altitude falls, as well as having highly trained staff on board who specialize in this type of injury.

The military, coast guard and many police departments employ an air ambulance for search and rescue purposes. In war, an air ambulance is invaluable when soldiers are severely injured and time is critical. The coast guard may use air ambulances for naval disasters, in which a helicopter offers a visual advantage when searching for people in the water.

In critical but non emergency situations in which a patient must be transported hundreds of miles from his or her current location, a private air ambulance company may be hired. This type of air ambulance provides transport services that are comparable to that of a hospital. Everything that a patient will need en route, including life support, is provided by a medical team of paramedics, physicians and nurses. A private air ambulance is very costly, but it is usually viewed as a small price to pay for the benefits of saving a life. Some insurance companies cover the cost in full or in part for this type of private air ambulance.


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