Air ambulance business is in a stall

Bart Gray walked away from a windfall of money that could have sustained him for the next five years.

The 32-year-old wished to start his own international air ambulance company, so he accepted a buyout that was far less lucrative. He agreed to it because it wiped away the no-competition clause with his former company.

Gray bypassed financial comfort for the chance to start his own business right away.

All that was missing was the certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. It is required for all aircraft-charter businesses.

The application was filed April 6, at which time an FAA representative told him, “Get everything ready.”

Gray bought a hangar and office building at Runway Drive in the Airport Industrial Park. He hired a pilot, chief flight nurse, mechanic and sales representative. Global Jetcare was about to become a reality.

He was ready to sign the lease for an aircraft that would cost him $20,000 per month.

But it has been more than three months and Gray still has not seen the first FAA inspector. There are nearly 70 applicants ahead of him. Based on what he’s recently learned, the office isn’t moving very fast.

“We are currently evaluating our resources in order to determine if and/or when we can support your application for certification,” wrote FAA manager Diana L. Frohn in a letter dated May 14. “We will respond to you within 30 days from the date of this letter to inform you of our resource evaluation results.”

Fifty-eight days have passed and Gray still hasn’t heard his phone ring.

The FAA did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. Messages were left with offices in Orlando, Washington D.C. and New York.

Gray’s licenses are up to date. He has a staff ready to begin work. His business would be ideal for military nurses, pilots, medics and mechanics returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

He is running out of money. He also is running out of hope that Global Jetcare will ever get off the ground.

He thought twice about renting the aircraft back in April.

“If we had gotten that plane, we already would’ve been done,” he said. “We’d be out of business.”

Gray has written more than a dozen letters and made many more calls to the FAA office in Orlando. He always makes sure to ask where he is on the list.

An assistant manager recently responded with more assurances.

“It doesn’t matter,” he told Gray. “It depends on who is ready first.”

That was fine with Gray.

“I’m all for that,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”

His pilot, Chris Frank, was at the office with him Friday morning. He was dressed in a T-shirt, cargo shorts and flip-flops.

He collects an income, but he hasn’t been in the air a single time since he started working for Global Jetcare.

“Each day is money lost,” he said.

Gray has turned to U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville.

Her chief of staff responded by contacting the FAA. She wanted to know the reasons for the delay.

The agency’s explanation was short and direct. There have been too many budget cutbacks. It was working hard to keep up with the backlog of applications.

Some inspectors have retired. Others have accepted buyouts. As far as Gray knows, there are two inspectors who have to wade through all of the certification applications, plus oversee at least five flight schools. Their area stretches from Jacksonville to Sarasota, he said.

A newly hired inspector must be trained, which could take more than three years, Gray said.

The certification process itself takes three months. If Gray receives a phone call that an FAA inspector will visit him and his hangar by Aug. 1, he would not be able to transport patients and make money until Nov. 1 at the earliest, he said.

Mike McHugh, the director of the Hernando County Office of Business Development, also has written a letter to the FAA on Gray’s behalf.

Global Jetcare was designed to transport sick and injured patients from one hospital to another worldwide, Gray said.

If someone is vacationing in Barcelona, Spain, and falls and breaks a hip, that person could then call on Gray’s company for a plane transfer back to the United States.

Traveling insurance would cover the transportation and medical costs, he said.

Gray also would coordinate inter-hospital transfers. If someone in New England gets sick and wants to be treated by a specialist in San Francisco, Global Jetcare would provide that service.

Gray was looking to have six full-time employees and 12 working part-time.

Cassie Smedile, a spokeswoman for Brown-Waite, confirmed her office has filed two inquiries. The congresswoman is still waiting on a reply for the second.

“We’re trying to help as best we can,” Smedile said. “It’s good for the community to have this business running. We certainly do think this is an important endeavor.”

Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or

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