Dec. 11, 2019

Flying live human organs between two operating rooms – when lives hang in the balance – is a time-sensitive mission, and when timing is critical, organ transport pilot Ben Zwebner said business aviation is saving lives.

Zwebner is assistant chief pilot for Grandview Aviation and regularly flies the company’s fleet of four Phenom 300 business jets on charter flights. Since beginning to fly organ transport missions in 2007, Grandview Aviation has conducted more than 1,500 organ transplant flights without an incident.

“On a typical organ transport flight, we pick up a medical transplant team of three to four doctors and technicians, fly them to the organ donor’s location where they procure the organ and then fly the team back to the original hospital to complete the transplant surgery,” said Zwebner. “Business jets and helicopters are necessary for this type of work because organs have short ‘cold times’; hearts, for example, can only be out of the body around four hours. Our aircraft delivers doctors to the closest general aviation airports or hospital helipads in the shortest amount of time possible.”

Before a crew is assigned an organ transport flight, a large amount of “behind-the-scenes” work has already taken place.

“We staff around five to six pilots per aircraft so that we always have a crew standing by that has had the proper rest,” Zwebner said. “Our operations team works with the organ organizations who set up the doctors, analyze the viability of the organ and schedule operating room time. By the time we receive the call, we know the destinations and the organ being retrieved.”

From an operational standpoint, Zwebner said the preflight preparation for an organ transport flight is similar to any business aviation flight. The key difference is that these critical missions use the MEDEVAC callsign designator so that ATC knows that the flight cannot accept undue delays.

“It’s a great feeling flying these missions,” Zwebner said. “We fly as safely and efficiently as possible, and after a long day, it’s nice to know we’ve played a small part in helping to save a life. That is pretty special.”