Wing Spirit, a new private air charter and air ambulance service in Hawaii using HondaJet Elites, said it is offering free return flights home to the neighbor islands for patients receiving treatment on Oahu to free up bed space at local hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.
The air service, using one of the small, twin-engine jets outfitted as an air ambulance and three others configured for luxury charter trips, applies as well to physicians and medical staff traveling to work at health care facilities on other islands, the company said.
The program, called the Medical Travel Relief Program or MED-TRIP, starts today and runs through the end of the month.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green was engaged in discussions with Wing Spirit to help establish the program, the company said.
“This is a significant charitable contribution by Wing Spirit and the state is truly grateful,” Green said in a release. “Hawaii’s medical service providers and medically fragile patients need all the help we can give during this challenging period.”
Wing Spirit said the airlift is not necessarily for COVID-19 patients.
“It will be applicable for anybody who is basically receiving treatment. The objective here is to alleviate the demand on hospital beds by taking folks out that are ready to be discharged or transferred,” the company said.
The company is anticipating three to four flights a day.
Queen’s Health Systems, Hawaii Pacific Health, and Kaiser are coordinating partners in the program. Eligible patients and medical staff have to coordinate with these hospitals, Wing Spirit said.
“Basically, the hospitals will make the call,” the company said. Medical flights from neighbor islands to Oahu can be covered by insurance, but return flights are not, Wing Spirit said.
The program, with an anticipated value of about $1 million that’s being fully funded by Wing Spirit, also will allow physicians to travel to the neighbor islands with more flexibility given the reduction in the number of commercial flights between the islands, according to the company.
“At Wing Spirit, we’re deeply committed to serving the community and this is a meaningful way for us to give back,” Dawn Guillermo, vice president of Wing Spirit’s air ambulance service, said in the release. “In a small way, we hope to help those who need support when they need it most.”
Featuring a unique over-the-wing engine mount, the jets can fit seven passengers and crew, have a max cruise speed of 485 mph and a range of 1,653 miles.
The Hawaii air charter service said in November it planned to bring 15 HondaJet Elites to Oahu for luxury interisland travel and statewide air ambulance service and was “exploring opportunities” to support an aviation education program in the islands to meet a “significant demand” for pilot, mechanic, flight attendant and aerospace training.
Four of the aircraft are based at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, and others are in the pipeline for delivery to Oahu. The company said the commercial service hasn’t launched yet, but stuck by its estimate to start up “fairly soon, hopefully” dependent on COVID-19 and market conditions.