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Does Helicopter Emergency Service (HEMS) Pilots face total burnout?

Updated: May 23, 2023

The question needs to be asked.

The Helicopter Industry in general is facing a desperate lack of pilots. It's been coming since 2018 and it is just getting worse. The Covid pandemic also haven't done much to help the problem. The pilots that have been working throughout the pandemic are hanging on by a thread, especially the pilots in the EMS field. Long hours, increased workload, fatigue and illness are taking it's toll.

Big HEMS companies like Metro Aviation is hurting. they oversee 160 helicopter air ambulances and flies roughly 130 missions per day, and Covid has definitely accelerated that pace adding more stress on an already fragile situation. Covid has created stresses and shortages in the healthcare system as a whole and more patients need to be moved between facilities to get appropriate care due to capacity and medical personnel shortages. More demand for flights means more staff and pilots are needed. Kenny Morrow, the COO of Metro Aviation says he needs to hire 35 more pilots and the pickings is slim. This is adding more stress on the current pilots with increased work loads and hours.

The current competitive employment environment means that Metro has had to pay these team members signing and retention bonuses, improve base wages, substantially increase overtime incentives, and offer a more liberal vacation/personal days off policy. Sometimes that isn’t even enough to combat occupational burnout. Metro was offering time and half overtime pay and bumped that to double time starting this year for pilots who cover open shifts to which they were not originally assigned. It has also liberalized its work from home policy, when possible, and now allows employees to use days off as they are accrued, as opposed to requiring them to bank them for use in the next calendar year.

The pandemic has shifted how employees view work life balance not just for Metro, but for the rest of the U.S.. “It’s not about the money anymore, it’s quality of life. There’s a shift. People want to spend more time with their families. It’s not just pilots, but people in general.”

Cameron Curtis, CEO of the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS), the air ambulance transport lobby, agrees. She said AAMS is developing tools and programs to address air ambulance personnel issues in the pandemic era. “We're going to focus on workforce issues and how we can support our members,” she said. This includes formation of a “workforce issues council.” “People are burned out, everyone in health care is just exhausted,” she said. “What you are seeing in the greater healthcare industry is happening everywhere. There’s more wage competition and offers of more benefits, more time off, that sort of thing.” In addition to education and patient outcome programs, Curtis said AAMS is focusing on the “Taking Care of Our Own” program through the Medevac Foundation to address air ambulance crew needs exacerbated by the stress of the pandemic. “The program is focused on working with frontline first responders with regard to substance abuse, suicide prevention, and mental health and wellness.” Curtis added that these crews have endured conditions “that are unimaginable to many of us who haven’t [been there]. Everyone is just stressed out and needs a break. We’re working to create solutions and resources that not only support our members but everyone from the bottom up.”

You have to wonder if all this will be enough. Will this pandemic be the straw that finally broke the camels back or will this be the turning point where helicopter pilots finally get acknowledged for what they are worth.

Some of the information is from


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