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Reflections on 35 Years in the Air Ambulance Industry

This month Travel Care Air celebrates 35 years as one of the leading air ambulance providers in the United States and across the globe. Since 1980 Travel Care has flown thousands of missions helping people in need. The company has flown to nearly every country throughout its history. Our owner, Ron Schaberg reflects on the past three and a half decades leading Travel Care, the air ambulance industry, memorable flights and more:

What made you start Travel Care Air?

Ron: My wife and I were both laid off from a commuter airline in 1979. The airline went bankrupt soon after, so we knew we wouldn’t be called back. So we had to start our own company for survival. We saw a niche in the medevac market in Wisconsin and believed strongly in helping others so we saw it as a natural fit.

What were the early days like?

Ron: We started the air ambulance side in Wisconsin and also had a shuttle service to Chicago that we ran for over 30 years. Most of our flights were to Milwaukee, to Chicago and to the Mayo Clinic, but with both operations we were pretty busy. In the early days when we were in Wisconsin a lot of our calls were to help people in snowmobile accidents. Back then snowmobiles were slower so injuries were less severe. Since snowmobiles have become faster, most of those people unfortunately die at the scene. So we started to take more heart patients and patients with illnesses and continued to grow our services from there.

How has the industry changed since you started?

Ron: When we began we were one of maybe three air ambulance providers in the state of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Since then we have seen a substantial change in the number of hospital helicopter programs. Now there are over double the number of air ambulance providers than there were 35 years ago in that region alone.

What are some memorable air ambulance missions?

There have been so many it’s very hard to choose. We transported a cancer patient. He was a Vietnam Veteran and wanted to go to the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. He had never been and we were able to get him there.

There was an early air ambulance flight where two young children were in a house with a gas leak. We were able to get them out and to Milwaukee and they both made it through. That felt good. We also had patients that were water-skiing and had an accident. They lost fingers, and divers were able to dive into the water, recover the fingers and we flew them with their fingers on ice. We transported them to Madison and the patients were able to have the fingers reattached.

What was your first international air ambulance flight?

Ron: Our first international air ambulance flight was a trip from Michigan to Glasgow Scotland. We leased a jet and put the medical crew on the flight. It was in the early years of the company, possibly in 1982.

What went into the decision process to move operations to Charleston, SC?

Ron: Around the middle to late 1980s as the industry expanded we started offering more international work and more work out of other cities and states across the United States. We needed to expand our business beyond the Midwest and wanted to do more on the East coast. There was a lot of medical work coming in and out of Florida from snowbirds so we wanted to position ourselves to provide our services along the coast.

What does the future hold for Travel Care Air?

Ron: We continue to be aggressive looking for opportunities to grow our air ambulance company. We want to make sure we are doing all we can to help people in need anywhere in the world and put ourselves in position to expand our services.

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