Cartersville, GA – Phoenix Air Group, Inc., based in Cartersville, GA ,has been awarded federal contracts by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense, and has received authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to begin flying Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in commercial operations.
Phoenix Air became known worldwide last August when it made its first flight from Monrovia, Liberia to Atlanta, GA carrying Dr. Kent Brantly who was infected with the deadly Ebola Virus Disease, becoming the first air carrier to ever transport a highly contagious patient from one continent to another. Following a second flight days later transporting Ebola-infected Nancy Writebold from Monrovia to Atlanta, the company was given an emergency sole source six-month contract by the U.S. Department of State to continue Ebola-related flights from Africa to both Europe and the U.S. To date, the company has successfully completed approximately 40 Ebola-related flights.
During the initial six-month emergency contract period, the State Department had time to identify other U.S. and international companies capable of performing Ebola transports so as to allow the government time to competitively bid a new three-year follow-on contract. With the exception of Phoenix Air, no such companies were identified, so the State Department awarded Phoenix Air a new three-year contract in February valued at $37.2 million.
The contract calls for Phoenix Air to keep two highly modified Gulfstream G-III aircraft on stand-by at the Cartersville-Bartow County Airport, GA capable of departing to anywhere in the world when called upon. This includes pilots and medical staffing appropriate for each flight. Each aircraft is outfitted with the Aeromedical Biological Containment System developed by Phoenix Air which is the patient containment chamber allowing highly contagious patients to be transported while keeping the pilots and medical crew safe from contagious diseases.
The contract also allows for a third fully-equipped Gulfstream G-III aircraft to be flown during surge periods. One such surge occurred March 11 to March 18. During this eight-day surge, three of Phoenix Air’s specially equipped jets flew seven sorties between Freetown, Sierra Leon and the United States (with one flight to London) in which 20 individuals either sick with Ebola or exposed to Ebola were returned from Western Africa for treatment in specialty hospitals, or to be kept under strict observation until cleared of possibly having the disease. Phoenix Air Gulfstream jets flew a total of 77,000 miles during that week, or approximately three times around the world.
Phoenix Air continues to have the only aircraft in the world providing this life-saving service although several other organizations are developing the capability.
The State Department contract also funds Phoenix Air opening an air ambulance office in Accra, Ghana, a West African country located just southeast of the Ebola “hot zone” countries of Liberia, Sierra Leon and Guinea. Phoenix Air has moved one of its air ambulance-equipped Learjet aircraft along with pilots and medical staff to Ghana’s capital city of Accra, where their mission is to provide immediate air ambulance response for all non-Ebola emergencies involving U.S. State Department employees working in Africa. This includes other federal agencies such as USAID and government sub contractors. The Ebola epidemic in Western Africa has disrupted normal air ambulance services on the African continent which all government employees assigned there previously depended on, so Phoenix Air’s medevac team is there to quickly transport American government employees having non-Ebola medical issues such as strokes, heart attacks, trauma injuries, etc. to high level hospitals in London and Johannesburg when urgently required.
The contract also allows Phoenix Air’s engineers and related aviation specialists to perform research, development and manufacturing of new technology to meet the air transportation requirements of new and emerging diseases, to keep Phoenix Air’s highly specialized aircraft fully equipped with the latest medical technology for their life saving misisons.
DOD Awards Phoenix Air $23.5M Contract
The U.S. Department of Defense Transportation Command awarded Phoenix Air a four-year competitively bid $23.5 million contract on March 24 to provide passenger and logistics services at three California military bases; Point Mugu Naval Air Station, San Nicolas Island off the California coast, and China Lake Naval Weapons Proving Facility. Phoenix Air had previously twice won this same competitively bid contract beginning in 2005.
Under the DOD contract, Phoenix Air maintains a fully-staffed base inside Point Mugu Naval Air Station, located 30-miles north of Los Angeles, where its pilots, flight attendants and maintenance personnel maintain and operate three Embraer 120 aircraft. These 30-passenger aircraft move an average of 220 government employees daily between these Naval facilities, totaling over 37,000 passengers flown annually.
FAA Grants Approval for Commercial Drone Operations
On March 26 the Federal Aviation Administration granted Phoenix Air authority to operate commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in U.S. airspace. Phoenix Air created a “drone department” aptly named Phoenix Air UNMANNED for this purpose. The company initially made an application to the FAA last September to operate unmanned aircraft shortly after federal law prohibited the operations of unmanned aircraft within U.S. airspace for commercial purposes.
Phoenix Air is the first airline in the nation to receive this authority. To date, over 750 companies and organizations have applied to the FAA for approval to operate unmanned aircraft, only 66 approvals have been granted including Phoenix Air UNMANNED.
Phoenix Air has leased 10-acres of land from Bartow County located approximately 5-miles east of the Cartersville-Bartow County Airport, where it is building a UAS training and demonstration facility to train its pilots and staff and demonstrate its capabilities to potential clients. The company is approved by the FAA initially to operate two types of unmanned aircraft; the Pulse Vapor 35 and Vulcan Octo. Each aircraft can carry various cameras and sensor packages.
The FAA authorization allows Phoenix Air UNMANNED aircraft to conduct “aerial inspection, patrolling, filmmaking and precision agriculture.”
William Lovett, Phoenix Air’s managing director of unmanned services stated, “Our UAS operators will be held to the highest standards of aircraft operations and will ensure that we meet and exceed all airmanship responsibilities when we are flying our unmanned aircraft within the National Airspace System.” This includes UAS pilots holding a regular FAA pilot license and medical certificate as required for all private pilots.
Currently all commercial UAS aircraft flown in the U.S. must weigh less than 55 lbs, not exceed 100 mph in flight, remain below 400-feet above the ground, and be within sight of the pilot at all times. Also, they cannot be flown at night or during inclement weather. Each UAS will be flown by a team consisting of a pilot and an observer to insure they are never in conflict with other aircraft, buildings, power lines, antennas, etc.
“Aviation in general is stagnant; two wings, motors for propulsion, they go up and they land. Unmanned aircraft on the other hand are the new horizon in aviation today,” stated Mark Thompson, president of Phoenix Air. “Phoenix Air has been on the cutting edge of many facets of aviation since the early 1980’s and we see unmanned aircraft as the new frontier for us.”
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