Redstar Aviation was founded in 1989, operating a single propeller-driven plane. The organization, which Ozan Alemdaroğlu, its Deputy General Manager, described as ‘Turkey’s inaugural air ambulance company’, has grown rapidly in the subsequent 34 years.
Redstar was the winner of last year’s ITIJ Air Ambulance Company of the Year award – a success Alemdaroğlu credits to their ability to maintain a ‘consistent level of service’ while ‘thriving in the face of adversity’. “Our ability to operate smoothly under such circumstances [as the Covid-19 pandemic] is a testament to the diverse configuration of our fleet, our existing capabilities, and, most notably, our renowned attributes of flexibility and adaptability,” he said.
A mixture of aircraft
Redstar’s fleet now include eight fixed-wing jets – five Bombardier Learjet 45 XRs and three Challenger 605s – as well as three Leonardo AW139s. Alemdaroğlu confirmed that the company owns all of these aircraft outright.
The company’s mixed fleet is designed to cater to a range of different clientele and mission specifications. While both the Learjet and Challenger jets are used to execute long-range air ambulance missions, the ‘mid-size’ Learjets, ‘equipped with dual stretchers’, are lower capacity, and tend to be used for ‘mid- to long-range distances’.
By contrast, the Challengers are ‘favored for their extended range and spacious cabins’, and can carry up to three patients and their companions at the same time. Additionally, Alemdaroğlu explained: “The Challenger 605’s cabin … allows for the safe use of specialized medical equipment, including isolation units and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) devices, and enables long-range missions with fewer or no technical stops.”
The company’s Leonardo AW139 helicopters are used primarily for shorter-range transportation, including emergency medical evacuations and personnel transport, but have a high capacity – capable of carrying up to 15 passengers or one to four stretchers at a time.
In addition to providing medical transport, Redstar uses its rotorcraft fleet to serve as an offshore aviation provider for the Turkish oil and gas industries, conducting personnel and cargo transfers, medical support, and search and rescue for the sector.
Redstar is currently working to expand its already impressive aircraft fleet even further – Alemdaroğlu noted that the company recently received its fifth Learjet 45 and third Challenger 605.
Redstar is currently working to expand its already impressive aircraft fleet even further
“We have strategic plans to expand our aircraft count in the coming years through various ongoing and planned investments,” he explained. “This expansion aims to provide even broader coverage and enhanced availability for our clients, aligning with our overarching vision and growth objectives.”
All Redstar aircraft are fitted with a dedicated air ambulance configuration, including at least ‘double intensive care unit (ICU) stretchers’, Alemdaroğlu said.
“Moreover, these aircraft are equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment,” he said. “This includes devices such as high-flow nasal oxygen (HFNO); invasive blood pressure (IBP) monitors; intra-aortic balloon pumps (IABP); neonatal incubators; and isolation pods.
“It’s worth noting that all our aircraft are standardized with the same high-quality medical equipment to maintain consistency and excellence in patient care across our fleet,” he added.
High standards of training
Redstar, says Alemdaroğlu, maintains a ‘diverse workforce that includes foreign personnel in various departments, depending on our operational needs’. Currently, international personnel serve in roles within the company’s flight crew, medical crew, and technician teams.
Prospective medical crewmembers are required to have a background of at least three to five years of experience working in an ICU or emergency response (ER) unit, or in a ground ambulance setting.
“Once this aspect of their application is approved by our medical department management, candidates are then invited to participate in missions, alongside regular medical crew,” he explained. “This hands-on experience allows us to evaluate their practical skills, and their ability to work effectively under the challenging conditions inherent in the air ambulance business.”
Medical crewmembers joining Redstar Aviation differ from other ground-based practitioners in that they are required to participate in the company’s medical crew orientation training
Medical crewmembers joining Redstar Aviation differ from other ground-based practitioners in that they are required to participate in the company’s medical crew orientation training (MeCOT). This training, Alemdaroğlu explained, ‘ensures that our medical crew is well prepared, certified, and continually updated with the skills and knowledge required to excel in air ambulance operations’.
The MeCOT training is divided into three main parts:
- Medical training – including basic life support (BLS); advanced life support (ALS); pediatric life support; and trauma life support courses. Additionally, medical crewmembers undertake a neonatal resuscitation course – which is mandatory for specialized medical teams involved in neonatal transport – as well as flight physiology training
- Civil aviation training – including crew resource management (CRM) training; security awareness training; and emergency and safety equipment training (ESET). Those working in offshore operations are additionally trained in helicopter underwater escape training (HUET)
- Continuous medical training – ongoing internal medical training organized by Redstar’s medical training department, and comprising both theoretical and practical medical training sessions on a regular, typically monthly, basis.
Maintaining the fleet
Redstar has an independent maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) capability, which it uses to ensure that its aircraft receive a decent standard of care.
“Our aircraft maintenance division has evolved significantly, and now stands as an independent entity – essentially an MRO company,” said Alemdaroğlu. “Over our extensive 30-plus-year history in the aviation industry, we have continually expanded our range of services and added new competencies. Presently, we possess the capability to perform maintenance services on all types of aircraft in our fleet.”
Our aircraft maintenance division has evolved significantly, and now stands as an independent entity – essentially an MRO company
He added that the company’s MRO facilities received official ‘Recognized Maintenance Centre’ status from Leonardo Helicopters in 2022.
Another significant achievement, Alemdaroğlu added, was the completion of the company’s first maintenance service contract for an external client. “This was made possible through authorization from the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority,” he said, adding: “Furthermore, we conducted our inaugural maintenance training service, marking the first instance of Redstar Aviation providing such a service to a global external customer under our SHY-147 authorization.”
A prime location
The company’s primary base is at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, where Alemdaroğlu said the company ‘enjoys a natural geographic and strategic advantage, situated right at the crossroads of the continents’.
“Today,” he said, “Redstar Aviation [operates] in a vast geographic expanse that stretches from Asia to Europe, and from South America to Australia.” This includes ‘regions marked by conflict and unrest, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen’.
Additionally, Redstar maintains a ‘global healthcare provider network’, as well as a client list that includes a range of assistance and insurance companies, both domestic and international institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations. Redstar is also a designated air ambulance service provider for the Turkish Ministry of Health.
This geographic advantage greatly contributes to our success, and our ability to respond rapidly
Alemdaroğlu credited Redstar’s geographical situation as a key factor in its success: “Our prime location in Eurasia gives us swift access to medical cases originating in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and even the Americas. This geographic advantage greatly contributes to our success, and our ability to respond rapidly.”
The company operates its own in-house, multilingual dispatch center, ‘staffed by a carefully selected team of qualified medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and operations experts’, Alemdaroğlu explained, and is the ‘sole aeromedical provider in Turkey accredited for fixed-wing air ambulance services by the European Aero-Medical Institute (EURAMI)’.
In addition to the company’s existing base at Atatürk Airport, Redstar is currently building a new 5,000m² hangar at Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, scheduled for completion by the end of 2023.
The hangar will support the continued expansion of Redstar’s fleet – and, Alemdaroğlu argued, it will also enable the company to provide a far wider range of services to customers, ‘including maintenance, training, and fleet management, in addition to our air ambulance and offshore services’.