For people who have been infected with a contagious disease, travelling somewhere with the proper facilities to treat it can often involve long journeys, with air travel being the only viable option. This, however, poses a problem in itself: how to safely fly the patient to the destination whilst also avoiding the disease spreading?
A prime example of this challenge was the Ebola epidemic of 2014, where thousands of people in Western Africa were infected by the potentially lethal disease, including US aid workers on the ground. To ensure these aid workers could be returned home for treatment, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turned to Phoenix Air. Their solution was to develop the ‘Aeromedical Biological Containment System’, which can be installed in a Gulfstream business aircraft and provides a customised negative-air-pressure chamber, which ensures that no contagion can escape and infect the crew or medical staff.
During the epidemic, the Phoenix Air system was a resounding success. Two American aid workers who were treating patients in Liberia contracted the Ebola were airlifted out of the country and transported to Atlanta, where both made a full recovery without the disease spreading further. Following this initial mission, Phoenix Air operated more the 40 flights transporting patients between August 2014 and May 2015. This is turn led to further technological advances in the field, with Boeing 747s being equipped with larger scale versions of the system.
In addition to Phoenix Air’s Ebola-relief project, German carrier, Lufthansa had also helped address the crisis by converting one of its A340 aircraft into an “Ebola jet”, which helped ferry health professionals back to treatment facilities.