You have both been active in the air ambulance industry for some time. Tell us about your experience and how you feel things may have changed since you started.
Jérôme Pin: I joined the Luxembourg Air Rescue (LAR) Group back in 2010. LAR opened up a brand-new world for me: the air rescue and air ambulance industry. It is a fascinating sector, notably due to the combination of aviation and medical fields, the complexity of operations, and the constant evolutions and challenges. Most important of all, is the sense of working towards a noble cause, doing everything we can to achieve our mission of saving lives and protecting people’s health. During the last 15 years, the industry has had to face many challenges such as severe economic downturns, geopolitical crisis, and a pandemic. This forced us to adapt, innovate and embrace new technologies. Our team was reinforced from 80 people to almost 200 today.
Tom Hienckes: I joined European Air Ambulance (EAA) in February 2022, when the whole air ambulance activity was still affected by Covid-19 related travel restrictions. Although I had 10 years of experience in commercial aviation, the air ambulance industry is still something very different. However, I had the good fortune to have the opportunity to learn from well-experienced colleagues.
EAA coordinates one of the largest specialised air ambulance fleets in Europe. Why do you think the company has been so successful, and what are the current EAA projects?
Jérôme Pin: EAA has been in the air ambulance industry for over three decades. The team has built a unique expertise and has learned, sometimes the hard way, very valuable lessons. The team is driven by its core values and never loses sight of its main mission to save lives and to rescue those in distress. To continue our success story, we have recently updated our company strategy plan. The world in which we are living today has become more complex, more volatile, more competitive, and riskier, and we want to be ready for both the challenges and the opportunities ahead. We are currently digitalising our operational departments. We have just completed the implementation of a new maintenance software to support our mixed fleet. We are now concentrating our efforts on our flight operations activities. This comes along with re-evaluating our internal and external processes in order to increase our efficiency.
Why do you feel your location in Luxembourg has been a big plus for the business?
Tom Hienckes: Beside its excellent geographical situation in Europe, Luxembourg can benefit from a skilled multilingual and multicultural workforce. With more than 15 different nationalities working for EAA and several languages spoken in the office, the linguistic advantages make it easier in our business to communicate as well as to engage with international partners and clients. The available cross-border expertise and knowledge are a great asset to understand what our international customers expect from us.
Can you tell us about the future of EAA and any plans for future investments and projects?
Jérôme Pin: Our strategy roadmap contains clear objectives for each business unit. We strongly believe that it will enable EAA to remain one of the leaders in air medical repatriation. In terms of new business areas, for example, we will significantly expand our in-house Aviation and Medical Training Academy capabilities, to broaden the range of services we offer to external customers.
Tom Hienckes: Regarding our fixed-wing strategy, our first Bombardier Challenger 605 is performing above our expectations, and we are definitely eager to increase our capabilities in the long-range market specialised in critical care, infectiology and neonatology.
You are closely linked to your mother company, LAR – a non-profit organisation. How does this relationship work?
Jérôme Pin: EAA is the commercial brand under which we offer air ambulance services to our business-to-business (B2B) and private customers. Being a non-profit organisation is definitely a major advantage for us and our customers. We are free from the influence of private investors or shareholders, not prevented, therefore, from operating a very efficient commercial model. All the earnings are reinvested in the company and not distributed to external parties, and we have a solid, transparent and diversified financial model. In practice, EAA benefits from its 100 per cent owned fleet and equipment, as well as from its fully integrated business model: dedicated medical, flight operations, maintenance and back-office teams. For example, our flight nurses and physicians fly on EAA air ambulance aircraft and on LAR air rescue helicopters, providing them with a unique set of skills and expertise.
How has the company been able to cope with inflation and supply chain problems?
Tom Hienckes: We are assessing the market dynamics on a daily basis. Thanks to our efficient controlling and finance department, we are able to implement adjustments very quickly. Our fixed costs have significantly risen in the past two years. Fortunately, fuel prices have returned to a relatively normal level compared to the peak reached in mid-2022.
Regarding supply chain issues, aircraft spare parts are currently the biggest challenge. Aircraft manufacturers’ stocks are low, causing a dramatic increase of prices. Planning ahead has become more important than ever, as organising parts on short notice can become a significant problem. Aircraft downtimes can unfortunately be extended by days or even weeks due to missing parts.