News and views

Neonatal Flights – Sudden Births & Unexpected Arrivals

The Real Doc Martin – Capital Air Ambulance’s Devon based Medical Director Dr Terry Martin – gives a snapshot of the service’s response when babies decide to arrive unexpectedly.

It’s not an unusual scenario. A young couple, happily expecting their first baby, and fully aware that life will change completely and permanently in a few months’ time, decide to take one last long holiday in the sun ‘while they can’.

She’s 27 weeks in to a normal pregnancy, and he’s making sure she has a great holiday and books his lovely wife on to all the excursions and adventures that are on offer at their resort. Who said that holidays are restful? Here the scenario changes significantly, and the story unfolds.


After a night out at a wonderful romantic restaurant, she wakes in the early hours with ‘stomach ache’ aka abdominal pain of unknown origin in a primigravida (lady in her very first pregnancy) in the early third trimester of her otherwise normal pregnancy.

The realisation takes a while to dawn before they decide this may be a premature labour. A flurry of activity, some blue lights and sirens, and soon the diagnosis is confirmed. Obstetric nurses, midwives, an obstetrician and an anaesthetist all come to try and stop this baby arriving too early for its own birthday. But this baby boy is determined and drops in to the world almost 13 weeks earlier than expected.

Unfortunately the new baby is not yet quite prepared for independent living! He isn’t too keen on the harsh dry environment of the neonatal incubator that very quickly become his new home, and prefers to be in mum’s own incubator!

On top of that, mum and dad are not too pleased that junior has arrived at a time when he is so small and so immature that almost every one of his functions of living are not yet developed enough to exist outside of this bubble. This is what being premature is all about.

A second flurry of activity starts after dad learns that flying baby home on their Easyjet special is simply not possible. Baby needs time to mature, time for the lungs to work efficiently, time for growth and weight gain, time to reduce the risks of infection, intracranial bleeding, and of inability to control his own temperature, to name but a few.

Did we take out insurance? Does it include cover for premature labour? Exactly what costs will be covered? How and when can we go home?

It’s not that much of an unusual scenario.

Capital Air Ambulance has been very successfully transporting adult patients for 6 years between all parts of the world, but often back to the UK. In the past two years, our contract with the Channel Islands has brought ever increasing requests to move premature babies and other neonates with urgent need for specialist paediatric or neonatal services. This demand grew as our equipment, personnel and capabilities developed in parallel to deliver the best possible neonatal transfer service for the islands of Jersey and Guernsey.

At the same time, the fund-raising children’s charity LUCY Air Ambulance sought our help to be their provider of aviation and aeromedical services for the transport of children around the UK. Ultimately the coincidence of timings of these major events encouraged us to build a highly flexible and robust neonatal transport service with state of the art equipment and highly trained specialist personnel.

We are now pleased to update our followers, but specially our clients and partners, that Capital has met its aims, and now proudly operates a fully equipped neonatal transport and retrieval service, using neonatal nurses and consultants from around the south of England, trained by us to act as flight medical crew. In doing so we were extremely fortunate to have attracted a very experienced clinical lead for the service. Dr Faith Emery recently joined my medical team at Capital and comes with a strong history of neonatal transport expertise, much of which was on international flights.

Our neonatal service still gathers plenty of experience with its cross-channel work for the islands of Jersey and Guernsey but, under Faith’s expert management and hands-on control, we have already undertaken two international neonatal transfers in the past few weeks This increased capability, coupled with a dedicated quarterly training program to recruit even more neonatal nurses and doctors has been strengthened by Capital’s fleet of three aircraft types of which each have a specific advantage depending on whether the transfers are island-hopping, within national boundaries, or from Europe or further afield.

With leadership from Dr Faith Emery, support from all of Capital’s resources and our state of the art equipment, Capital looks forward to a long lasting relationship with the LUCY charity and to transferring premature and neonatal babies for our many clients and partners who have, up to now, loyally used our services only for adult patient transfers.

As to the rather surprised new parents whose story we began with… baby Julian slept through almost the entire journey to the UK and was finally discharged from hospital to go home for the first time with mum and dad a few days ago. His hospital stay was peppered with a few ups and downs, and, like all premature babies, he will need close follow-up in the months ahead, but his future looks great and his parents are so happy with their bonny early delivery.

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History of Capital Aviation

Capital Air Ambulance is a part of Capital Air Charter Ltd which was started by husband and wife team, Malcolm and Lisa Humphries working from their own home back in 1991. In those early days, our main activity was executive passenger flights and some aircraft chartered as medical air taxis. Capital’s first aircraft was a Cessna 421c owned by our Chairman Mr John Hunt.


Growth and development started quite soon and continued over the past 2 decades until the present day. Our main base was at Filton, near Bristol and, shortly after commencing operations, we added two PA31 aircraft to the AOC. Secondary bases soon opened in Chester and Teesside, but the Head Office is now in Exeter with recent outstations in East Midlands airport and Biggin Hill, as well as chartered air ambulance aircraft still based in Jersey and the Isle of Man.

Although much of the work was still executive passengers and freight, a gradual change from air taxi to complex air ambulance operations became ever more demanding. To meet the extra needs, Capital purchased its first Beech King Airs in and around 2005. We later realised that the future of the company was in operating these turboprops throughout Europe as dedicated air ambulance aircraft and serious thought was put into creating a bespoke and high quality service complete with its own bank of medical and nursing staff as well as enough top of the range medical equipment to fit out 3 air ambulance aircraft.

By December 2011, Lisa and Malcolm had recruited Dr Terry Martin, an internationally acclaimed expert in aeromedical services. He was employed on a part-time basis to build a complete service from the embryonic starting point of the existing fleet of air charter aircraft. Terry was soon joined by Flight Nurse Manager Gail Barkes, and two Flight Nurse Co-ordinators, Nicki Paver and Dominic Rose. The next 6 months was spent procuring and testing equipment and a multitude of other tasks necessary for establishing the type of quality service which was the dream of those involved.

Capital Air Ambulance was unofficially launched on 1st June 2012 and was an immediate success. The high workload took everyone by surprise but only to the extent that the entire team worked even harder to put all procedures and processes in place to run an ethical, safe and efficient service based on the cumulative expertise of Terry in the medical field, and both Lisa and Malcolm in the aviation sector.

By 2015, an 80% share of Capital Air Charter Ltd was bought by Rigby Group PLC who own and manage six airports , including Exeter. We are now part of a group that also includes our sister company, British International helicopters and whose core business is built around an international IT company and includes a chain of five star hotels and a management support company. Being part of Rigby Group has helped Capital to invest in new offices, move to a jet aircraft fleet, and supplement our medical capability by the purchase of state of the art equipment, and increasing the number of our core medical staff.


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January 2017: Capital Air Ambulance is pleased to announce the addition of Learjet 45 Aircraft

Capital Air Ambulance is pleased to announce the addition of Learjet 45 Aircraft to their AOC which has also been granted worldwide coverage. This has been a huge milestone for Capital and we are delighted to be able to offer this excellent Aircraft for worldwide missions. To cater for a significant increase in our workload, the medical department, under the direction of Dr Terry Martin, has now trained and recruited over a hundred specialist flight nurses and doctors. In essence, being the only Eurami Accredited UK operator and offering all levels of care to all patient age groups, operating the Lear 45, and our four King Air B200s from bases in the Midlands and Exeter allow us to offer our clients a bespoke, efficacious and cost effective solution from our U.K. footprint.


July 2016: Capital Air Ambulance Poised for European Expansion

Capital Air Ambulance (Capital), the aeromedical brand of Rigby Group’s aviation division and the UK’s No 1 provider of fixed wing air ambulance services, has unveiled an ambitious strategy for expansion across the European market.

Capital has in recent months taken advantage of marketplace changes to establish itself as Britain’s largest Air Ambulance operator and is operating from a second UK base in the Midlands, with an enlarged fleet and crew offering an expanded range of services including long haul medical repatriation flights across Europe, the Middle East and North America.

Sir Peter Rigby, Founder and Chairman of Rigby Group, said: “Capital Air Ambulance has grown rapidly since joining the Group just two years ago, and is now poised to begin competing on a level platform with some of our largest European competitors.

“We have invested in both new aircraft and highly trained crews, and have opened a second UK base at Coventry Airport to extend our services across a much wider geographic area. We are now extremely well positioned to make a significant impact upon the European aeromedical sector over the coming months and years.”

Capital provides rapid response medical assistance services and repatriation flights 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, employing a highly experienced, multilingual team to deliver medical support and translation services on scheduled commercial and charter flights or via road transport. With a 25 year track record in repatriating British citizens when they have been injured or fallen ill in a foreign country, it is the only Eurami (European Aeromedical Institute)accredited UK medical assistance company to operate its own fleet of air ambulances.

The company also provides bed-to-bed transfers for the full spectrum of patients with acute and chronic medical conditions, using its dedicated fleet and commercial airliners. Capital’s services include specialist adult, neonatal and paediatric equipment and the company flies with critical care capability on board should the patient require these services from the outset, or in the event that their medical condition deteriorates during the journey.

Since 2014 Capital has been part of the Rigby Group Plc aviation division, a trusted flying partner to the Military and an experienced international Search & Rescue service provider. In the intervening period it has invested in a custom fitted Lear jet to enable long haul repatriations and has expanded to support a full and part time staff of over 70 trained professionals. The aircraft fleet consists of ten fixed wing aircraft and two aeromedical helicopters.

Paul Southall, who heads up Rigby’s Aviation division, commented: “In just two years since Capital joined Rigby Group, the company has exceeded all expectations, growing from strength to strength in an extremely competitive and challenging market.

“Today, with months of investment and operational enhancements firmly in place, we see a huge window of opportunity for a British owned aeromedical operator to seriously challenge its established European competitors and intend to make significant strides in this area over the coming months.”

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June 2016: Capital Air Ambulance helps early arrival return home

Capital Air Ambulance has collaborated with charity Lucy's Air Ambulance, to fly home a premature baby.

Click here to read the full story.

May 2016: BBC News highlights Capital Air Ambulance support of crowdfunded surgery girl

Capital Air Ambulance stepped in to bring home a woman paralysed in a horse-riding accident in Egypt after £31,000 was raised for surgery funded by well-wishers

Click here to read the full story.