Business aviation, widely recognised as an effective business tool for companies requiring fast and secure flight services, plays a lesspublicised but vital role in emergencies, humanitarian support and relief efforts around the world. Its flexibility allows it to mobilise on short notice, provide aircraft types suited for specific missions and operate into airports that are inaccessible to others. Other missions are uniquely tailored to business aviation’s capabilities, such as the transport of persons with highly contagious diseases.

Phoenix Air Group, a US company, is the only business operator worldwide with the capability to transport patients with a highly infectious disease in an intensive care unit.

A cooperative effort between the US Centers for Disease Control, Department of Defense and Phoenix Air in 2007 led to the development of the Airborne Biological Containment System, a customised, negative-pressure isolation unit designed and certified to be used in the company’s modified Gulfstream G-III aircraft. The unit isolates the contagious patient from the flight crew and medical professionals on board while allowing for the provision of intensive care.

In August 2014, at the height of the Ebola epidemic in western Africa, the US Department of State turned to Phoenix Air for assistance, as two American aid workers had contracted Ebola in Liberia and were near death. Phoenix Air deployed one of its specially equipped aircraft and flew them to a hospital in Atlanta, where both ultimately recovered. During the outbreak, Phoenix Air used its containment unit to transport 41 patients to hospitals in the US and Europe.

The success led to the development of a multi-patient transport unit, the Biological Containment System, which has the capacity to transport four highly contagious patients and six medical attendants inside a B747-400 cargo aircraft or military transport.