Cathy Lizak
Contributing writer
last updated 05/06/2021

Cost of Medical Evacuation from India is Skyrocketing

Difficulties of transporting patients during the COVID pandemic

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While medical evacuation from India to other countries can still be done as of May 1, 2021, the cost of medevac from India is rapidly increasing. What cost from $15,000 to $150,000 a year ago to bring a patient from India to the United States, for instance, now costs from $220,000 to $350,000.

The international restrictions for medical evacuation from India are rapidly changing and have priced many patients out of reach of medevac service. For now, it is still physically possible to transport patients via air ambulance out of India to other countries. Those that can still afford rapidly increasing costs of air ambulance from India and that are anticipating the need for medevac should consider quickly repatriating their patients now before governments further restrict movements. The reasons for cost increases and diminishing window of opportunity for medical evacuation are explained below.

The least expensive option for medical evacuation from India for many patients has been airline medical escort. For those patients that were well enough to travel in business class seating with the aid of a registered nurse, medevac costs were typically less than $20,000. For those patients that needed more medical treatment, the next least expensive option was medical stretcher transport aboard commercial airlines.

However, these services, for all intents and purposes, have been effectively shut down. Nurses travelling to India to retrieve patients now require a letter of authorization from India’s Ministry of Health. That letter, as of this writing, takes at least eight weeks to receive. Nurses travelling from India then require a PCR test, now extremely hard to get in India, that takes two weeks to receive, when testing is available.

Air Ambulance Service is still available from India for both COVID and Non-COVID patients. However, the cost of air ambulance has dramatically increased because of neighboring countries’ restrictions for foreign aircraft. Many countries are now not allowing aircraft that have landed in India to then land in their country, even to simply refuel. Therefore, options for medevac’ing patients from India have been restricted to two costly options.

One option is to use a much larger aircraft with a much greater flight range. The least costly air ambulance jet to medically evacuate patients from India has historically been the Learjet 35A. Yet, the Learjet only has a flight range of about four hours. All countries within this range have restricted planes that have landed in India from landing at airports within their countries. Therefore, Learjets cannot travel from more than four hours away, land in India, and then leave with a patient.

However, planes like the Gulfstream IV have a much longer flying range. Gulfstreams can fly beyond countries that restrict planes from India to land in a country that still allows stops for refueling. The per hour flight cost of a Gulfstream medevac is much more than the cost of a Learjet medical evacuation.

The second option to medevac a patient out of India is to use the services of a few air ambulance companies neighboring India to fly into India to retrieve a patient and then fly back to their base without having to land in another country to refuel. Then companies like Global Air Ambulance can transfer the patient from the retrieving air ambulance company and continue on to the patient’s destination country. In this manner, the retrieving air ambulance company that is restricted from traveling beyond its base, having landed in India, can transfer the patient to a company, like Global Air Ambulance, that has not landed in India.

While this option is temporarily available, neighboring air ambulance companies that are positioned to retrieve patients from India have doubled or tripled their prices thus far during this surging Indian pandemic crisis. This dramatic price increase, some might call price gouging, is outside the control of air ambulance companies like Global Air Ambulance. Global Air Ambulance has not increased our pricing whatsoever, but we must pass through the rapidly increasing prices that other companies are charging for wing-to-wing transfers out of India. This is the reason that a typical price for air ambulance from India to the United States has increased from $150,000 to $220,000, as of this writing.

Countries are continuing to increase restrictions for travel from India. Australia is now not even letting its own citizens return to Australia from India. The United States, as of May 4th, is now restricting travel from India to U.S. citizens and legal residents. These are but a few of the rapidly changing restrictions. We expect that some of the few remaining options for medical evacuation from India will close due to added restrictions in the coming weeks as India continues to be ravaged by an uncontrolled spread of the virus within its borders. Therefore, if you are considering medical evacuation from India, consider expediting your medevac decision.

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