Wed, Jan 24, 2024 2:00 PM

New local plane to boost flying doctor service


William Woodworth

Rural health services across the top of the South are set to receive a boost with the launch of a $3 million air ambulance plane for the New Zealand Flying Doctor Service based at Nelson Airport.

To the end of June 2023, the service completed 1,276 missions across New Zealand and just over 50 percent of these missions were from Nelson.

The new plane, the Beechcraft Super King Air B200, is the newest in New Zealand’s aeromedical fleet and offers a significant upgrade.

“This model of plane is ideal for aeromedical inter-hospital transfers and will be instrumental in getting patients in the Nelson and Marlborough area to the specialist or higher acuity care they need,” says Nelson base manager, Ryan O’Rourke.

Before the launch next month, the New Zealand Flying Doctor Trust is giving Nelsonians and Top of the South locals a chance to name their plane, and the lucky winner will be invited to the launch at Nelson Airport on 15 February.

Voting is now open at and people have until 9 February to cast their vote.

Chief executive of the trust, Christine Prince, hopes locals will embrace the opportunity to name their plane.

“It will be permanently based in Nelson, on call to help the community when needed,” she says.

NZFDT chairman Dr David Bowie and chief executive Christine Prince. Photo: Supplied.

“With the service’s highly trained medical, nursing staff from Nelson Hospital and specialist equipment, patients can be transferred seamlessly to Christchurch or Wellington or further afield for advanced medical treatment.”

Five specialist pilots are based in Nelson and the seven flight nurses are ICU staff from Nelson Hospital. The trust contributes $2,500 to every mission - $3 million a year.

The Beechcraft Super King Air B200 can be equipped with two patient stretchers plus seating for up to four medical crew and patient support people, equipment and two pilots.

The aircraft is a perfect fit as its performance and versatility allows the New Zealand Flying Doctor Service based in Nelson and Christchurch to operate efficiently around the country, including the remote Chatham Islands. It flies at 480km per hour and has a 1500 nautical mile range.

GCH Aviation, which operates the service, has a five-year plan to progressively upgrade its aircraft fleet making investment today to keep up with demand and introduce new technologies, and it plans to expand the fleet further.

Trust chairman, Dr David Bowie, says it is a life-saving service, and the plane is set up as a flying intensive care unit.

“When time is of the essence and distance is an issue, the New Zealand Flying Doctor Service is the only option for many patients,” he says.

Mark Sullivan has the service and its sister ROA Mining Rescue helicopter to thank for saving him in Nelson last year, after a light plane crash in remote bush near Murchison left him clinging to life.

The New Zealand Flying Doctor brought him back to Christchurch Hospital for the first of many surgeries. Eighteen months later, Mark is back in his role as an Anglican Vicar in Christchurch. He now lives with eight pieces of titanium in his face and jaw and new front teeth, but shows only one small scar on his chin to tell the story.

“At the time I didn’t appreciate how close I came to not surviving. No other organisation has had such a profound impact in my life and I feel that our part of the world is well served with such a professional and dedicated band of men and women. The air rescue and flying doctor teams saved my life and I want to say a massive thanks,” he says.

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