Control, we are already most likely within 20 to 30 miles of a major city, and therefore close to a major hospital. Furthermore, since the radar controllers live and work in the same metropolitan area, it is likely that the controller we are talking to knows not only all of the airports in the area, but has a fairly good idea of where some of the hospitals are located relative to those airports. The more difficult situation is one where the emergency occurs over a very rural part of the country. And for this we turn to the Center.
In this case, my call went to Lowell Hought, the Executive Officer with the Kansas City ARTCC, and the answer was very much, “it depends”. The Center has two difficulties, relative to Approach Control. First, the towns and cities with acceptable medical facilities are much more spread out. Secondly, because a Center’s airspace takes in such a large geographical area, it is rare for a Center controller to know what medical facilities might exist in the towns in the sectors they control. And during a medical emergency of unknown seriousness, both pilot and controller will be struggling with the dilemma of landing at a closer airport with a low level of care, versus travelling to a more distant airport with a possible higher level of care.
All is not doom and gloom however. The fact that the controller is on the ground with support staff in the room is one advantage that we in the plane do not enjoy. The Center can make phone calls immediately to various law enforcement agencies in their area and request advice. Secondly, it may sound very basic, but Center has the luxury of pulling up a computer and doing the same kind of data search that we would do if we were on the ground. Except, we are not on the ground.
Finally, because Center (as well as Approach Control) keeps a phone list of law enforcement agencies within their area, once an airport is agreed upon, they can summon whatever medical care is available to meet the aircraft.
So, while the Controller cannot put an EMT in the plane with you, they can provide some consultation regarding a possible solution to getting to the proper airport quickly. And once you as the pilot make that decision, you can be assured that you will be on the ground as quickly as your plane can fly. And you can expect that the Controller, whether Center or Approach Control, will make the necessary arrangements to have medical assistance standing by upon your arrival. And then you can concentrate on just flying the aircraft