New jet added to Boston MedFlight fleet

The plane has already transferred six patients from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket since becoming operational in June.

The medically equipped aircraft is now in service for critical care transport to patients from longer distances. —Courtesy of Boston MedFlight

Boston MedFlight, a nonprofit organization that provides medical transport for severely ill or injured patients, has announced a new addition to its fleet.

A medically equipped Cessna Citation CJ4 twin-engine jet joins the nonprofit’s existing five twin-engine Airbus H145 helicopters and eight critical-care ground ambulances.

Though the new jet is currently the organization’s only plane, Boston MedFlight began using fixed-wing aircraft roughly two decades ago, specifically to serve patients on the islands in the wintertime. 

The new addition is capable of traveling more than 1,500 miles at a cruising speed of 460 mph, a stark difference from the organization’s previous fixed-wing planes (turboprop) that were limited in range, altitude, and speed. The organization had identified a specific need for quicker, and longer-distance, transports.

Although the MedFlight helicopters are capable of flying in cloudy or foggy weather, they can’t operate in icy conditions, MedFlight chief operating officer in charge of transport Rick Kenin told The Times in a recent interview. Using planes helps close that gap in seasonal service. 

In the event no helicopters are available for an emergency transport, the jet is used, regardless of the weather conditions. “It’s optimized for the winter conditions, but we can use it year-round,” Kenin said.

The nonprofit makes routine trips to and from the Vineyard, oftentimes multiple times a day. 

Roughly 400 patients from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are transported by Boston MedFlight each year; typically those patients are being transported to hospitals in the Boston area.  

Unlike the Airbus helicopters, which can fly directly to a hospital, patients transported by the plane are brought to the organization’s Bedford base and transferred via ground ambulances to the medical centers. But “the jet is much faster than the helicopter, so there’s a tradeoff there,” Kenin said.

The standard crew on Boston MedFlights includes a pilot, copilot, critical-care nurse, and a critical-care paramedic. What sets the jet apart is that it has room to accommodate a patient’s family member or escort.

“Helicopters are very weight-sensitive,” Kenin explained, adding that each flight’s capacity is dependent upon the patient and needed medical equipment. 

For example, a small infant requiring an incubator can weigh too much, making bringing an escort impossible. But “it’s typically always possible in the jet,” Kenin said. 

Having been in operation for nearly 40 years, Boston MedFlight has become an integral part of the region’s healthcare delivery system, working in direct collaboration with leading medical centers throughout the commonwealth. The organization’s helicopters, ground vehicles, and jet are outfitted with state-of-the-art medical equipment, and have been a vital community resource as well as essential training tools for local health professionals and first responders.

Each year, the nonprofit provides $1 million in free and unreimbursed care to Martha’s Vineyard patients who lack adequate health insurance.

“We are excited to have the CJ4 in service,” said Boston MedFlight CEO Maura Hughes in a recent statement. “While the majority of Boston MedFlight patient transports are done by helicopter and critical-care ground ambulance, having an airplane asset represents an essential resource to expand our capabilities to and from longer-distance hospitals, and when weather conditions dictate.”