The air ambulance industry is growing steadily across the world, and with market research analysts predicting the global air ambulance market will increase at an annual rate of almost 10% by 2020, services such as TrustAir Aviation in Hungary are now encompassing far more than the simple ambulance pick-up.
TrustAir Aviation Ltd is a relatively new enterprise, only established in February 2015, but driven by more than 15 years’ experience by the company’s CEO, Dr Péter Túri. The company was formed to provide an air ambulance service from a Central-Eastern European base covering the whole of Europe. Whilst primarily focusing on the CEE market, the team behind the launch all have a background in medical aviation, based in its non-profit, national, primary rescue part, the HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) business. After almost a decade spent in the HEMS sector, the company launched a new medical service in the fixed-wing market, flying international repatriations, and undertaking a variety of medical missions – from paediatric cases to adult ICU and even transplant flights. TrustAir’s main clients are now government organisations, like MoH, for-profit insurance and assistance companies. It’s a real change in direction, and one which has proved to be extremely successful for the business.
Dr. Túri explains, “Several years ago we realised that aero-medical repatriations, part of everyday life in Western Europe, have limited resources in the CEE region. As our special knowledge in the field of medical aviation was both already significant and recognised internationally, we decided to enter this niche market. It took several years to further enhance the skills and experience of the medical team to prepare us for the new start-up, but we believe these efforts have been beneficial. It was difficult to strike the correct balance between international benchmarks, best practices and the specialties of the CEE traditions, local practices.”
A CHALLENGE TO BREAK INTO THE MARKET
Competition is fierce, and TrustAir has worked to find individual solutions to give the company an edge. “We decided that we didn’t want to compete with the big names in the industry, but instead provide a service that meant additional resources even for them. As an example, we chose turboprop aircrafts instead of the more widely used jets, as our competitors mainly fly those. There are several advantages to using our aircrafts, such as shorter runway requirements, or being able to use smaller regional airports. Working like this gives us greater opportunities to expand into what is already a mature market.
“We have to face challenges from many directions. Western Europe has plenty of large, powerful, financially and operationally strong companies, which have been very active in the air ambulance industry for years. To compete with them is really challenging, and our only means of doing so is to provide the highest quality of work with flexible and cost effective medical services.”
INEXPERIENCED INSURANCE COMPANIES
It’s not always a simple task though, as he goes on to explain: “In Central-Eastern Europe we face a lack of experience in the field, where for example, staff at insurance companies have little or no experience of working with air ambulance operators, and where sometimes money is more important than the individuals’ healthcare and medical interest. For us to gain any assignment from the CEE region is therefore complicated; we must carefully educate the client, convince them of the benefits and advantages of the air ambulance service, and highlight how beneficial an air ambulance flight could be, not just for their clients (who are our patients) but also for themselves in financial terms.”
As with most flourishing companies, the success of its positioning lies in the strength of its team. “We are proud of our medical team, our colleagues, who have been working together for more than ten years, and they are our greatest asset. Several thousand primary helicopter missions and hundreds of secondary fixed-wing repatriations have been the root of our success. It’s difficult to find a motivated and very experienced medical team. Everything else is just a matter of commitments, money and hard work.
“As a business, our key principles are credibility, competence and visions – that’s what keeps us moving. I recall from my very early days as a new CEO some advice given to me by an old Austrian helicopter pilot – ‘In selection no corruption. Always try to find the best, the most talented, and most motivated colleagues. Treat them well as they are part of your personal success.’ So even our younger staff are given opportunities, opening windows to the world and offering something previously unavailable to them. Without them we couldn’t reach our current position.”
LEADING THE AIR FIELD
However, it hasn’t always been about creating a new and successful business. “It is always challenging to be a pioneer, to build up something which has previously not existed. But, as you proceed, everyday efforts turn into minor, then later slightly larger success, as you see the satisfaction in your colleagues – and that creates more energy and power. First and foremost, I am a doctor, a trauma and hand surgeon, an emergency physician with a passion for flying. How could I not be positive when I’m able to combine my chosen profession and my hobby during my everyday life?”
Although predictions for the global EMS (Emergency Medical Services) are positive, Dr Túri knows his company still faces many challenges, based largely on the location of the business. “General aviation in CEE definitely has some pitfalls in comparison to Western Europe. We have plenty of opportunities in front of us, but it’s difficult to become a recognised and accepted player when all your competitors have a minimum of ten years’ advantage. Additionally, as our core business is medical repatriation, which has strong and direct links to tourism, I am afraid to say that recent geopolitical situations, terror threats, the migrant crisis and the economic situation will all negatively affect the industry.
“We want to become a significant service provider in the CEE region standing on stable feet. We believe that we are only at the beginning of our journey. There are many more sleepless nights and 18 hour working days ahead of us until we reach a point where we can say, “This is where we always wanted to be.” We are planning to add extra aircraft over the years to come, which when incorporated into the fleet will provide an extended service. Perhaps the helicopter era will also return to us. At least partially…”
So where does Dr Túri envisage the business being in a few years’ time? “Hoping for the best outcome, that the TrustAir name will be an equal when compared to our current competitors, and perhaps together with a strategic partner we can plan the next stage for the future.”