A private medical air transportation company is setting up a new helicopter hangar on the Kenai Peninsula. On Wednesday, company representatives spoke to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce about the services they provide and the perks of their membership program.
Guardian Flight Alaska is one of several companies in Alaska that offers medevac and air ambulance services in coordination with local emergency responders. At Wednesday’s luncheon, Jessica Hyatt, business development specialist for Guardian, talked about the company’s plans to station a new H125 AStar helicopter on the Kenai Peninsula.
The helicopter will be the first Guardian Flight aircraft permanently stationed on the peninsula. Hyatt said that, currently, Guardian flies one of their fixed-wing aircraft out of Anchorage or Fairbanks in order to provide services for the peninsula.
Hyatt said that with an increasing population on the Kenai, the company is anticipating more medevac and air ambulance services will be needed, and a helicopter based on the peninsula will be able to deliver those services faster than a plane coming from up north.
“We definitely saw that an additional helicopter to the peninsula was needed,” Hyatt said. “And this way we’re able to (have) a shorter flight time to get you where you need to go.”
Hyatt said that Guardian’s Kenai base of operations will be operational on April 1 of this year, and the company plans to hold an open house prior to that date. Hyatt said that Guardian will occupy a hangar previously owned by Grant Aviation on Granite Point Court near the Kenai Airport.
All Guardian flights, Hyatt said, have a crew that consists of a pilot, a paramedic and a flight nurse that are capable of performing triage and advanced medical services. For the new peninsula-based helicopter, Hyatt said that the company is looking to fill those three crew slots with local applicants.
While companies like Guardian provide an essential service in Alaska, the out-of-pocket expenses for being airlifted out of a backcountry trail can be astronomical if the service isn’t covered by insurance providers. In 2017, a report from KTOO in Juneau highlighted the story of one man who was charged $135,000 for being flown from Douglas Island to Seattle after crashing his car.
Riley Little, membership sales manager for Guardian, said during Wednesday’s presentation that a membership with Guardian would mean no out-of-pocket expenses for the services provided by the company, regardless of the person’s insurance status. Membership with Guardian costs $125 per year, Little said, and applies to every person living in the same household as the Guardian member. The membership is also valid in any other state where Guardian provides services and has no cap on the number of times the service can be used.
When asked about Guardian’s safety record, Hyatt cited a crash that occurred in January of 2019 near Kake — in which all three crew members died — as the only crash in the company’s 20 years of operation in Alaska.
In the event of an emergency that requires medevac services, Little said that Guardian members should make their membership known to 911 dispatchers and other emergency responders so that they know to notify Guardian and send one of their aircraft in lieu of another company. Members are given stickers to put on the backs of their cars to signify membership as well as cards and keychains that are meant to be stored with other insurance cards and information.