Our Crew

There are a total of 22 experienced nurses who currently work in the Christchurch Hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU) who are scheduled on a 24 hour roster as part of the Air Ambulance Retrieval Team.

When required, a senior doctor can be drawn from the ICU to provide timely emergency care. The service also takes speciality staff on board such as paediatric doctors or midwives as required.
An Intensive Care Consultant oversees all transfers and provides clinical support 24/7.

GCH Aviation paramedics and crew are also an important part of the crew when a mission integrates with the rescue helicopters – and certainly not to be forgotten are the highly experienced 14 fixed-wing pilots who require specialised training to fly air ambulances. Together, this extended network of professionals ensures that the level of care afforded to the patient throughout the transfer is never compromised.



Planes are scrambled within an hour to fly patients from as far away as the Chatham Islands in what are essentially flying intensive care units (ICUs). Our service has a national scope, taking children to Starship in Auckland and transferring burns patients to the National Burns Centre at Middlemore Hospital, and for other specialist services, like bringing spinal patients to Christchurch. Other patients include neonatal transfers, trauma victims, and surgery patients. The service has also played an important role in the aftermath of major events such as the Whakaari White Island eruption and the Pike River Mine disaster.
The Service has 10 highly experienced fixed-wing pilots based in Christchurch and 4 in Nelson, all of which require specialised training to fly our specially modified planes. These are currently:

3 x Beechcraft King Air B200C

The aircraft have been specially modified to accommodate stretcher systems and incubator assemblies. All have large cargo doors for ease of access.
The job entails about 40 per cent actual flying. On average, the team completes three to four missions a day, lasting anywhere between three to six hours each. It’s unpredictable, with calls often coming in at the last minute. Pilots are also involved with loading and unloading patients, keeping everyone calm in what can be intense situations.
“Every day is different. The plane is just the tool for getting from place A to place B quickly. There is a lot that has to happen along the way. There’s a lot of organising, especially after dark. Being a 24-hour service presents additional challenges with many of the regional airports shutting down at night. You need to know who the various people are who can turn on the runway lights and let ambulances through gates” says Arthur (pictured).
The Service is always at the mercy of the weather. Though our pilots are all rated to fly under instrument flight rules, there are still days where they can’t fly. All decisions have to be made in the best interests of the patient. Working for the NZ Flying Doctor Service is a massive privilege. “It is a life-saving service,’ says Arthur. “There have been so many people that have been touched by the service. Of the 1,000+ patients we see a year, we see a small percentage of them on the worst day of their lives. We become part of their journey”.
Being able to transport patients back home once they are better is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the job. During Arthur’s time as a pilot, he’s seen some tiny babies and some critically unwell children, and to be part of their homecomings is incredibly heart-warming.
It can be extremely emotional when patients come back to visit us at the base at GCH Aviation. Those who have had first-hand contact with the service are always so grateful the service exists

Flight Doctor


Specialist doctors can be drawn from the Christchurch Hospital ICU Department to provide timely emergency care as required. The service also takes speciality staff on board such as paediatric doctors or midwives where necessary.

Our flight doctors act as the clinical lead on transfers, utilising their knowledge, practical skill and training to ensure quality care is provided to patients throughout each journey.
Dr Neil Davidson is an Intensive Care Specialist and Aeromedical Retrieval Specialist Clinical Lead. He has been involved with the service for 16 years.
Dr Neil Davidson says “It has been a particularly challenging year due to the ongoing impact of Covid, however, the team across New Zealand have pulled together to ensure that patients get the best treatment possible. The team has been working on some specific projects; for example, how to tackle a potential widespread Covid outbreak on the Chatham Islands; how to ensure the best spinal patient care pathways, and how do to manage changing supply and demand patterns across New Zealand.”
Throughout the pandemic response we have been expanding our nursing and dedicated medical teams, improving the patient transfer experience, and enhancing the entire service.
New aeromedical commissioning is in progress, taking a big picture view of aero services in the sector which could lead to some changes in the longer term. Ours is a very dynamic sector as hospitals, resources and technologies change and with the move to Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora. There are certainly a lot of opportunities on the horizon. Our sector is passionate about ensuring the very best patient outcomes. We are proud to contribute significantly to this 24-hour aeromedical service.”

Intensive Care Flight Nurse


There are a total of 22 highly trained intensive care flight nurses who make up the clinical team. They are all experienced in aeromedicine and are scheduled on 24-hour rosters as part of the Air Ambulance Retrieval Team.
The New Zealand Flying Doctor Service is the contracted service provider to Health New Zealand Canterbury |Te Whatu Ora Waitaha and Health New Zealand Nelson Marlborough | Te Whatu Ora Nelson Marlborough.
Cardiac emergencies continue to be the highest call outs, representing just under a quarter of all medical emergencies. Many of our patients are flown to places of definitive/highly specialised care a long way away from their normal place of residence, others to palliative care services. We also repatriate patients for end-of-life care.
“Before flying we try and anticipate everything a patient may need, we all prepare together to make the journey as safe and comfortable as possible.” Dr Katherine Townend, Intensive Care Doctor.

As Pilots we are a part of the team, we help with patients to keep them calm- we plan the flight path and consider if we need to adjust the altitude, depending on what is wrong with the patient. I like seeing their faces when we get there safe and sound.

GregPilot- Christchurch
NZFD crew is sitting in an aircraft flying on a mission to save lives and create stories of success.

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