Parking changes at RDU may pose problems for emergency medical care in NC

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Private planes can be used to transport patients in extreme emergencies when a medical helicopter is unable to reach the person.

The plane picks the patient up and flies him to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. For example, a burn victim on the Outer Banks can be transported to RDU, then to an area hospital like UNC Medical Center.

“We wouldn’t be putting them in an airplane if time wasn’t critical; if it wasn’t something that they needed to get where they needed to get in a timely manner. So, every single minute counts” said Ashley Smith, the CEO of Jet Logistics, which contracts with UNC Health.

Smith’s concern is that the employee parking lot across the street from General Aviation may soon no longer be available to the company’s pilots, crew, or medical staff. The 100 spaces are right across the street from where the medical flights take off and land.

Because of rapid growth, RDU proposed to use those spaces for general parking. The airport said one of the options for medical flight staff is to use the express lot on the further side of the employee lot for $200 a month. That rate would be discounted from $360 a month.

That’s a jump from the current $12 rate in the employee lot. Another is to use Lot 4 and take a bus. CBS 17 timed that route during a busy time of the day. It didn’t take long for a bus to arrive, but it had to stop at two terminals before getting to where the air ambulance departs at General Aviation. It took 20 minutes and 51 seconds.

That timing could vary in either direction depending on a variety of factors.

There is also concern about what this means for organ transplants.

“When you land at RDU, then the surgeon’s going to take that cooler in his hands and go to his car and drive to the operating room to do the transplant, now you’re going to take up another 15 minutes,” Smith said. “You just used 33 percent of his time on the ground because he’s got to catch a bus.”

Smith is frustrated he and others were not included in the planning process.

“If the airport is truly there to serve the citizens, then there should be a compromise here,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t be a dictatorship where somebody on high says this is how we’re going to do business and I hope you like it. If you don’t, tough.”

CBS 17 has reached out to UNC Health and Duke Health for comment. RDU issued the following responses to questions posed by CBS 17’s Russ Bowen:

What is the current plan?

The Airport Authority initiated conversations with general aviation tenants in May about potential parking changes and met with them in June. The Authority explained it may recapture about 100 parking spaces currently used by general aviation employees and staff for commercial parking operations.

What is the timeline?

Individuals impacted by the change would receive at least two weeks’ notice and the spaces would only be recaptured if they are needed for ParkRDU customers. The Authority initially estimated the parking changes would go into effect around Oct. 1 as a result of commercial parking overflow from the garage paint and repair project, but we have not yet needed to recapture the spaces.

Medical emergency aircraft providers are concerned about losing the parking spaces and the additional time it will take crews to get to the flight in a timely manner. What is RDU’s response to that?

It’s important to note that RDU and the FBOs provided tenants and employees with three tiered amounts for parking: Monthly space in Express lot – $200. The Express lot is adjacent to the FBO facilities and is being offered at a discounted rate. The full rate would be $360/month. Monthly space in Lot 4 – $11. The FBOs would add additional shuttles to transport their employees back and forth. Daily space for TAC lot – $12. If they want direct, immediate access they can use this option. They can also park in Express for $12 for direct, immediate access.

Will there be further discussion with the general aviation companies before a final decision is made?

We are still in conversations with all of the parties and will continue to work with the FBOs to look for additional options they can provide to their tenants and employees.

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