Omniflight EMS ops

Company flies diverse fleet of helicopters and airplanes from more than 70 emergency medical service bases throughout US.

By Woody McClendon
ATP/Helo. Challenger 604

Omniflight crew and managers with a new Eurocopter AS350B3 AStar at IWA (Williams Gateway, Phoenix AZ). (L-R) Regional Mgrs Cary Heath and Bill Irland, Flight Nurse Howard Devine, Pilot Jim Caryl, Flight Paramedic Thom Hudson, VP Westeran Region Lee McCammon and Dir Aviation Ken Hartin.

It was in the 1960s that the commercial helicopter business was born. Those early days were like flying the biplanes of the 1930s, the aircraft underequipped and underpowered, their owners convinced the world wanted their services somehow, somewhere.

A few brave souls set up shop with Bell 47s and, like their 30s airplane predecessors, offered rides at local county fairs, photo flights and any other odd job that might bring in a few dollars. Dan Parker of Janesville WI, heir to the famous Parker Pen fortune, saw the potential of helicopters and started Omniflight in 1962.

From home base in Janesville, Omniflight developed a large aerial spraying and agricultural support business with a Bell 47 fleet. In between spraying missions there were the occasional high-profile events like drying the grass at Lambeau Field for the Green Bay Packers-good advertising for the fledgling company.

By 1980 the Bell 47 fleet had been replaced with Bell 206 JetRangers and 206L LongRangers. Omniflight expanded into other markets by buying established operations. Chesapeake and Potomac Helicopters in Baltimore MD became Omniflight Airways after its acquisition, continuing its work in passenger transport along the US east coast.

Dot Helicopters in Corpus Christi TX became Omniflight Offshore. That fleet continued to support its oil rig customers in its new Omniflight colors. And the company took a major step entering the emergency medical services (EMS) business.

(L-R) Pilot Jim Caryl, Flight Nurse Howard Devine and Flight Paramedic Thom Hudson brief for a scene call in the mountains.

One of its first contracts was with the Mayo Clinic. St Mary's Hospital, a Mayo affiliate in Rochester MN, became an Omniflight customer, buying its first helicopter and hiring Omniflight to manage the aircraft.

Omniflight continues to support St Mary's today after almost 25 years of continuous service. Mayo Air Transport, the operating entity for the St Mary's-based helicopter, recently took delivery of a new Eurocopter EC145, equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, an all-EFIS instrument system and single-pilot IFR AFCS.

The EC145's cabin is furnished with the latest in advanced life support (ALS) equipment. Delivery of this helicopter is a major highlight in the long relationship between Omniflight and the Mayo Clinic. Omniflight's list of aviation milestones is long and notable-it includes a contract with Pan American Airways to provide helicopter airline service.

To support the contract Omniflight Airways acquired 4 Bell 222s and based them in New York. These helicopters operated a schedule from heliports high atop buildings in downtown Manhattan to EWR (Newark NJ), JFK (John F Kennedy, New York NY) and LGA (La Guardia, New York NY).

Omniflight operates from 70-plus bases across the US.

Passengers bought the trip to the airport as part of their fare for overseas flights from New York. In 1984 Omniflight sold Omniflight Offshore to Air Logistics and concentrated all its resources on the EMS market. In 1989 the company acquired Silver Star Helicopters, an ADS (Addison, Dallas TX)-based EMS operator, adding about 30 new hospitals to Omniflight's client base.

Omniflight moved its base to ADS to be more centralized supporting its US operations. Dan Parker passed away in early 1990 and his wife JoAnn took over the business. In 2003 she sold the company to Texas Growth Fund, who subsequently sold it to Wind Point Partners, a private equity firm that considers Omniflight a significant asset in its large health care portfolio. Anthony DiNota serves as Omniflight's president & COO.

He joined the company in Nov 2007 after serving as COO of Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA). Prior to his tenure at ASA, DiNota served as general manager of aircraft engine maintenance for Delta Air Lines. DiNota says, "My goals for Omniflight are focused in 4 areas-safety, quality, reliability and dependability.

Safety is paramount. In general I'd like to bring my experience in the Part 121 world to Omni and build a model of excellence that will set us apart from all other air medical operators." He continues, "We're going to restructure the company's operations by incorporating a safety management system (SMS) approach used by Part 121 operators.

Supporting one of the company's oldest customers, Omniflight put this new EC145 into service recently at St Mary's Hospital, a Mayo Clinic associated facility in Rochester MN.

This will put in place standardized proactive, hands-on support tools for our staff, allowing them to better address safety issues and increase operating efficiencies. "We also want to incorporate more advanced technology, including implementing the flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) concept." FOQA was designed by Flight Safety Foundation in 1989 as a method of evaluating aircrew practices in day-to-day flying.

It uses flight recorder data to build a database of average flight profiles. These are analyzed for deviations from normal and the results published to all pilots. The entire process is designed to eliminate any possibility of individual criticism. DiNota claims that implementing FOQA at the Part 135 level, particularly in helicopters, will be a first for the industry.

"We think our pilots will appreciate the feedback and value the opportunity to continuously sharpen their skills," he says. "To implement FOQA we will need a method of accumulating flight data, like the flight recorders in commercial transport aircraft. We think we've found a cost-effective system that will work appropriately in a helicopter.

We're also going to complete the flight following system that Omniflight has already implemented by integrating a national communications loop. This will be linked with data from each aircraft in flight as well as online 3D weather. We will then be equipped to support every pilot with real-time input on optimum routes to ensure the safest set of options."

Discussing quality, DiNota explains, "We will continually strive to proactively improve quality in managing operations. We will examine reliability tracking on all powerplant and airframe components by establishing mean time between removal (MTBR) databases." This will help to keep aircraft in the air and decrease unscheduled component issues, he says.

"Another Part 121 concept we intend to look at is developing third-party vendors as alternatives sources for repairs," he continues. "We can add a lot of value to our system by developing vendors as alternatives to OEM suppliers." DiNota goes on to describe how the 2 remaining areas fit into the future operating plan.


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