Flying Organs: The Unique Challenges of a Vital Mission

Jessica | May 1, 2019

Private jets are often associated with opulent travel, but more often than not, they are time-saving machines that serve an important purpose for business executives. Beyond flying private individuals and corporations, private jets are frequently used to transport surgical teams to procure and transport human organs for transplant.

Organ transplant teams have limited windows of time to move organs from the donor to the organ recipient, often 6-10 hours depending on the organ type (UNOS). Hearts can only be out of the body for 4 hours, making the need for ultra-fast transportation, like private jet charter, the only way to transport surgical teams from one hospital to the other.

Organs can be transported across the country at any time of the day depending on organs that become available, an individual’s status on the organ wait list, and other factors. Helicopters and jets are often the only way to save lives and bring hope to families of organ recipients.

Transplant Procurement Travel Risk

Due to the important nature of the mission, transplant flights put pressure on medical teams, dispatch centers, and aircraft operators to perform. This pressure has the potential to create hazardous flying conditions if robust safety processes are not followed. Research has estimated that procurement air travel via private charter is significantly riskier than scheduled commercial airline service, and that transplant teams may have “the riskiest job in medicine” (Englesbe and Merion). However, there are many ways to reduce these risks using industry best practices.

At a minimum, research has suggested that transplant missions should always be flown in turbine (jet engine) aircraft with at least two pilots to minimize flight risk (Renz). As an aircraft operator with over 15 years of organ flyout experience, GrandView Aviation recommends going further than these requirements by choosing operators that carry third-party safety ratings that require on-site audits (i.e. IS-BAO, Wyvern Wingman, ARGUS Gold Plus or Platinum). Operators should always be willing to share information on their internal policies to reduce flight hazards of all kinds.

As many organ flights occur during night hours, outside of most individuals’ circadian rhythm, crew fatigue and operator scheduling policies are a growing concern in this industry. Tired pilots cannot properly perform their mission of protecting their passengers.

Balancing Legal Rest Requirements and Mission Requirements

Part 135 flight crews cannot legally work more than 14-hour working periods (duty time); in addition, they must have 10 hours of rest prior to flying any on-demand passenger flights (Part 135.267 FAR).

The FAA requires charter operators to provide prospective (known in advance) and undisturbed rest to crew members for any work assignment. This important safety issue is vital to aviation safety; flight crew members must know their schedule to be properly rested and avoid errors to due fatigue.. Placing crew members on constant “on-call” or “standby” status is not permitted by Federal Aviation Regulations (commonly referred to as rolling rest) and creates significant flight hazards and unnecessarily increases risks on these missions. (See Orellana Letter of Interpretation – FAA).

These regulations create a unique challenge in the transplant procurement industry as transplant missions are often dispatched only hours before an OR time and can last from 6-10 hours from takeoff to return. The combination of a 14-Hour working shift and the requirement of knowing rest and duty 10-Hours or more prior to assignment makes scheduling flight crews for organ transplant charters extremely difficult without proper staffing levels. GrandView Aviation has industry-leading solutions for these complex challenges.

With our experience and history in this industry, GrandView Aviation has developed shift programs, similar to hospital medevac programs, that meet these legal requirements and provides availability needed for these important organ flyouts. We can accommodate more organ missions at a higher standard of safety with our unique model, providing surgical teams and coordinators with fully rested, and mission-ready crew members. We also use newer aircraft to ensure dispatch reliability so transplant teams don’t end up with mechanical delays and issues during these missions.

This staffing guarantee can only be made by direct charter operators certified by the FAA who have complete control over the operation of the aircraft, the qualifications of our crew members, and the like. If you work with an aircraft broker or coordinator, and not the direct operator, be sure to discuss these important issues and set minimum qualifications for your flight broker to follow in procuring your aircraft from air carriers.

How are we different?

GrandView Aviation specializes in transporting transplant surgical teams and transplant equipment. These life-saving missions are at the heart of our business and how we’ve designed our service. To date, we’ve flown over 1500 organs and surgical teams safely, and we have never experienced an accident or incident in our 15 years of completing these charters. Our organization is staffed on a 24-Hour basis to provide immediate dispatch availability to private jet clients as well as the transplant industry.

We provide charter on-demand services in the Northeast and Central United States, as well as customized, dedicated aircraft programs for Organ Procurement Organizations and hospitals with transplant programs nationally.

To find out more or to have a complimentary consultation with our team of transplant charter experts, please call 443-596-3414 or email transplant@flygv.com.