A serious car crash, heart attack or house fire are all situations that may require urgent medical attention for those involved. MedEvac, a contraction of "medical evacuation" missions have been performed since horse and buggy days. Air evacuations began in the 1920s, with helicopter missions beginning in 1944. MedEvac helicopter pilots are responsible for the safe and timely transport of the ill and injured to a medical facility.
MedEvac helicopters are also known as air ambulances or Life Flights. According to the Association of Air Medical Services, as of 2009, there were over 4,400 MedEvac pilots in the United States piloting 900 medically equipped helicopters. These vehicles transport 400,000 patients each year. Though most air MedEvac missions are scheduled hospital-to-hospital transfers, many respond to accident scenes, taking on significant importance to the 46.7 million U.S. residents who live more than an hour from a top-level trauma center.
MedEvac helicopter pilots are commercial pilots. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial pilots earned a median annual income of $67,500 as of May 2010. This median fell within a range of $34,860 on the low end, and $119,650 on the high. The top-paying metropolitan area for commercial pilots was Springfield, Massachusetts, with an annual mean wage of $129,860 for this occupation; the top-paying nonmetropolitan area was the Hawaiian Islands, with an annual mean wage of $97,570.
MedEvac helicopter pilots do not provide medical care or involve themselves with patient treatment in the back of the aircraft. Their sole responsibility is to transport patient and crew safely to a medical facility. Their duties include obtaining detailed weather reports, planning flight paths, coordinating with other flight traffic and checking engines, instruments and controls before the flight to make sure all systems function properly. Because helicopter pilots fly at low altitudes, they must be on constant alert for power lines, trees, bridges and transmission towers, in addition to changing weather conditions.
Credentials and Licensing
MedEvac helicopter pilots must first obtain their rotorcraft helicopter commercial pilot's license. This licensure requires dual instruction with a certified flight instructor for 20 hours of flight time, 10 hours of solo flight time and 100 hours of Pilot-in Command, PIC, flight time, where liability and obligation for a safe flight rests entirely with the student. Pilots must pass a written exam by the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, as well as an oral and practical flight exam conducted by an FAA examiner.