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Air rescue business gains traction

By WANG YING in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-24 03:28
Zou Jianming. Provided to China Daily

More than 170 patients were evacuated by the Shanghai A&A (Aviation & Air Ambulance) General Aviation in 2017, and more are expected to receive this airborne emergency service when it is expanded across China.

To date, the Shanghai-based general aviation operator has established 43 bases in 23 provinces. Zou Jianming, the chairman of the company, said he is now looking to expand his services to 28 provinces while boosting the fleet number from 42 to 102 by the end of this year.

"Our goal is to form a 40-minute air rescue network across China in the next five years. The quicker a rescue operation is, the higher the chances of saving lives," said Zou.

In December, the company airlifted a 70-year-old patient who suffered a brain hemorrhage from Xiangshan of Zhejiang province to Shanghai East Hospital. That same month, a university student in Jiangxi province who fell into a valley while hiking was rescued within 36 minutes thanks to the service. Conventional rescue in such a situation would normally require at least three hours.

"In order to achieve this goal we will need to operate between 360 and 400 aircraft, and hire more pilots and medical personnel. We are also working with universities, overseas training centers as well as hospitals to attract talent," he added.

The 54-year-old said that he had aspired to be a pilot ever since coming across an airplane when he was five. He later became a pilot in 2003 and registered his own aircraft management company just three years later. In the following years, Zou's company dabbled in several business ventures, including aerial photography, chartered helicopter services, pilot training and agricultural applications, but ultimately failed to turn a profit.

But the breakthrough came in 2008 when he volunteered his company's services for a 15-day rescue mission in the aftermath of the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province. This was when he realized that there was a market for air rescue services. After years of preparations and visits to the United States, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Japan and Australia, Zou launched his helicopter emergency medical service in May 2015.

Zou noted that the company is now on route to profitability as more people have been using his services. In 2016, Shanghai A&A General Aviation performed 20 rescues, up from seven in 2015. Last year, the company flew more than 170 rescue missions. Zou expects the figure to exceed 1,000 this year.

Meanwhile, the company's membership figures are also projected to double to 20 million this year. Members pay an annual fee of 365 yuan which entitles them to free helicopter rescue services by the company. Many members purchase the service from insurance companies.

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