The Touring Club of Switzerland (TCS) has launched an airborne ambulance service to bring injured clients home.
The non-profit Swiss Air Rescue Service (Rega), which is a member of the Swiss Red Cross, has described the motoring association's offer as superfluous.
This week, TCS announced its partnership with Alpine Air Ambulance (AAA), a Zurich-based enterprise. TCS owns a 49 per cent share in AAA, which gives it access to three emergency helicopters as well as two other vehicles. In addition, AAA has more planes available.
“We provide transport from anywhere in the world to a hospital in Switzerland,” TCS spokesman Stephan Müller told swissinfo.ch.
“We’ve provided this service for over 50 years – it’s not new that we have several partners.”
One of those partners is Rega, which has been providing emergency rescue service for nearly 60 years.
“On Tuesday, it became public that we cooperate with AAA, and Rega is slightly nervous. It is still our partner – I want to confirm that right now – but competition is not always liked,” Müller said.
Rega communications head Sascha Hardegger denied Rega was nervous.
“We are happy to fly for TCS, but the number of missions for TCS has already diminished by 75 per cent since 2009, so we’re not really worried,” he told swissinfo.ch.
Rega is sceptical as to the need for the TCS service.
“As Rega already provides these services for people based in Switzerland and travelling abroad, this new service is not really necessary. It’s basically doubling the existing capacities and not really what Switzerland has been waiting for,” Hardegger said.
The Swiss NGO operates 17 helicopters in Switzerland and three ambulance jets dedicated to emergency medical missions.
“We’re fully capable of covering the world and I think these capacities satisfy the demands and needs of Switzerland and its population,” Hardegger said.
In addition to providing transfers between hospitals and repatriation to Switzerland on medical flights, Rega specialises in what it calls “primary missions” – rescuing victims from accident scenes, often in hard-to-reach mountain landscapes.
In contrast, TCS arranges hospital transfers and repatriation – no rescue missions. Will its cooperation with AAA actually create competition for Rega?
“Of course there is a pressure on the costs. Maybe Rega will offer its services at a lower price,” Müller said.
Repatriation service is a business with a number of international players, such as Tyrol Air Ambulance, Luxembourg Air Rescue and Germany’s DRF Luftrettung.
Asked how lucrative it was, TCS’s Müller said: “Repatriation flights are costly. You have expenses for the helicopters or jets, the petrol, the landing fees, the crew that is in a state of constant alert – it’s not cheap.”
He thought TCS could reduce its costs with its new partner AAA. “Our budget is not lower, but with the same budget we can provide more flights for our members.”
Of its 1.6 million members, TCS has 700,000 subscribers to its medical intervention service – which provides help if they fall ill or have an accident while travelling. So far this year, its call centre in Geneva has handled 8,000 enquiries and arranged 650 repatriations.
In comparison to TCS, Rega has more than two million patrons and carried out nearly 14,000 missions in 2010.
“The basic difference between Rega and TCS is that TCS is offering a service to its clients – people who have insurance within the TCS group – whereas Rega is a non-profit organisation that offers a public service for all people living in Switzerland. So you can’t really compare these systems,” Hardegger said.
The Swiss patient protection organisation welcomes the new TCS offer.
“This way there will be different prices and patients can decide who they want to take them back to Switzerland in the event of an emergency,” president Margrit Kessler told the German-language 20 Minuten newspaper.
The Touring Club of Switzerland (TCS) is a motorists’ association with 1.6 million members. It is particularly active in the area of infrastructure policies affecting Swiss drivers. It also provides a breakdown service.
Some 700,000 TCS members have a document that entitles them to assistance if they have an accident or fall ill while travelling.
Each year, TCS arranges for the safe return of some 800 people and 2,800 vehicles.end of infobox
The Swiss Air Rescue Service (Rega) is supported and funded by its nearly 2.3 million patrons.
It waives the costs of rescue missions carried out on patrons’ behalf, providing that these costs are not covered by a health or accident insurance.
Rega attended 13,726 rescue missions in Switzerland and neighbouring countries in 2010.
It said rescue missions resulting from winter sports activities continued to rise last year, with avalanches contributing to the causes of such rescues.end of infobox