Phoenix Air upgrades to super-sized medevac plane, practices Ebola response

A specially-equipped Boeing 747 cargo jet is set to take off from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Wednesday evening, embarking on a practice run with a super-sized medevac plane to transport patients with infectious diseases.

Cartersville-based Phoenix Air, which gained attention for its Gulfstream III Ebola planes it used for rescue missions two years, is running the exercise to test out the new equipment.

While the Gulfstream III aircraft that Phoenix Air used for 40 rescue missions during the Ebola epidemic could each carry only one patient along with medical staff, the newer and larger biomedical containment system that fits in the 747 can transport up to four patients and six medical personnel.

Two large units, each the size of a  44-foot shipping container, were funded with a $5 million private-public partnership grant between the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the State Department. Phoenix Air, a federal contractor, has a contract with the State Department through 2021 for contagious disease transport, according to the company's chief operations officer Dent Thompson.

Although the Ebola outbreak has ended, Phoenix Air says the Containerized Bio-Containment System, or CBCS, is designed to handle patients with any type of infectious disease.

During an exercise earlier this year, a hydraulic lifting device elevates the CBCS container more than 15 feet above the pavement and lines it up with the aircraft floor. Source: Phoenix Air

The practice run on a Kalitta Air 747 cargo jet out of Hartsfield-Jackson is scheduled to depart Wednesday evening for a nonstop flight to Dakar, Senegal, then on to Monrovia, Liberia. There, it will pick up three mock Ebola patients and return to the United States, landing in Washington Dulles.

"We can simulate Ebola at its most severe level so we can demonstrate that we can handle those that are very sick," Thompson said.

The mock patients will be flown to Omaha, Nebraska, home of the University of Nebraska Medical Center -- one of the centers that treated Ebola patients in 2014, along with Emory University in Atlanta. Then, the 747 with the containment unit will return to Atlanta Friday evening.

Along on the flight will be up a number of observers, including technical staffers from federal agencies.

It's the second such exercise Phoenix Air has done, after a practice flight earlier this year from Atlanta to Andrews Air Force Base.

The aircraft are "like fire trucks for the U.S. government," Thompson said. "We can be airborne in less than 12 hours from the initial call," to transport patients with infectious diseases or to handle medevac transport for the State Department, he said.

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About the Author

Kelly Yamanouchi
Kelly Yamanouchi
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.