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BIZ BUZZ: Fly-by-night medevac flights

/ 04:05 AM August 25, 2021

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging a year and a half after it began, demand for medical services is at an all-time high. And, if the sound of wailing sirens around the metropolis is any indication, ambulance services are one of those high demand sectors of the medical industry.

And the demand to ferry patients from one point to another extends even to the air, apparently. We’re talking about so-called air ambulance services where passengers who need urgent medical attention are airlifted in specially outfitted aircraft from where they are to the location of the hospitals they need to be.

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Naturally, its specialized nature means air ambulance services aren’t cheap, costing anywhere from P1 million to P5 million a trip, depending on the distance and needed equipment, to ferry VIP patients safely to their destined medical facilities.

But with the surge in demand brought about by the pandemic, some enterprising air ambulance operators have begun to offer their services without the necessary licenses and permits. More alarmingly, one such service has apparently based itself in the Philippines over the last few weeks to service penny-pinching VIPs around the region.

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Biz Buzz learned that the Civil Aeronautics Board has ordered an investigation into the operations of a Solomon Islands-registered IAI Westwind 2 jet (the same kind that figured in a fatal accident last year while on a medical supplies delivery flight from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport) that has been allegedly operating “under a questionable air operator’s certificate.”

The probe is based on a complaint letter written by the head of the Hong Kong-based Asian Business Aviation Association (ABAA) to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade warning Philippine officials of this “illegal air ambulance/medevac charter operation now being flown out of Manila.”

The complaint said the aircraft was previously offering its unregistered services out of Subang, Malaysia, but transferred to Manila after they were busted by Malaysian authorities.

The aircraft is supposedly owned by Coral Sand Airways and leased to a company called Medexo, of which a certain Capt. Peter Ireland is an executive.

Ireland “has formed a partnership with Capt. Rioklyn Toledo of ALS Life Support Services, and their flight approvals are handled under Avcare Flight Support Inc. This effectively bases their operations out of Manila as a foreign AOC operating out of the Philippines,” the letter said, as it urged local authorities to conduct safety and airworthiness checks on the aircraft as well as the visas of the crew.

“The cause for concern is that without a legitimate permit to operate, the charters are deemed illegal and would be a risk not only to the Filipino medical crew onboard but also to the points of destinations stated above,” the ABAA said.

The question now is … will local authorities put an end to these shenanigans, or do some people find them too lucrative to stop? Abangan!

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—Daxim L. Lucas

Call to deliver

Mobility restrictions during this prolonged pandemic have brought e-commerce activities in the country to new heights. However, there are some people who have yet to embrace online shopping.

The SM group’s department store arm The SM Store has thus introduced a hybrid shopping service called “call to deliver” to serve consumers who wish to shop but could not get out of their homes. The group has reported promising results, citing a double-digit growth in volume from this offering.

“Even before the pandemic, The SM Store made sure the customer continued to have a positive store experience. Call to Deliver gives you that element of human interaction that is very important to the Filipino. We are able to offer a more personalized store experience through Call to Deliver,” SM Retail president Ponciano Manalo said.

Available through #143SM, Facebook Messenger and Viber, SM’s “call to deliver” service allows customers to chat with store personal shoppers. This shopping innovation fuses personal in-store shopping with video call services and instant messaging apps for a more personalized approach.

Items purchased are delivered directly to shoppers’ homes, set aside for in-store collection or brought outside for curb side pick-up. They were made possible by tapping third-party delivery companies.

The service has also been adopted by SM’s retail operations and affiliates.

“This is in recognition of what the customers need or want and being able to immediately offer a unique form of shopping for those having a hard time pivoting to online formats,” Manalo said.

During the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from Aug. 6 to Aug. 20, SM Store also offered free delivery services to ECQ areas for a minimum single-receipt purchase. Discounts were also made available to COVID-19 vaccine cardholders.

Among the tenant support initiatives was to mobilize tricycle and taxi operators and even bicycle riders as fulfilment partners, providing critical delivery services especially in provincial areas for various tenant transactions, including those done through the “call to deliver” service.

“We will continue to evolve and be where our customers want us to be. SM Retail is investing a lot in technology to ensure the best delivery and most convenient service for an enhanced customer experience,” Manalo said.

—Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

Unique kind of red tape

Red tape is a common feature of government for good or terrible reasons all combined. But those are too ordinary for the current leadership at the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda). Over there, they have intellectual reasons.

And so, Biz Buzz heard grumblings over the Neda’s supposed plan to impose a sort of eligibility exam for government implementing agencies before they could submit public-private partnership (PPP) proposals to Neda’s Investment Coordination Committee. We’re talking of a multiple-choice exam that might be easily answered by an economics professor, a socioeconomic planning secretary or both.

For example, picture a country where the central bank decides to slash interest rates, causing bond yields to fall. What then would be the cost of equity for a given airport project, which by the way had a Beta of 2, if the risk premium went up by 100 basis points?

That’s two points if you get it right.

This is an actual sample in the possible exam that would have over 50 questions. We’re also told this was still in the works, meaning it may or may not proceed.

Raised eyebrows aside, our sources did not appear to mind that yet another barrier was being put up.

The larger question was whether this was indeed the best way to screen PPP projects instead of focusing on their actual eligibility.

PPPs, whether solicited or unsolicited, are already subjected to rigorous review—for good reason.

Ensuring government agencies are also competent in implementing these projects is just as important, given their long-term nature.

At the same time, it only takes one glance at the huge number of unimplemented PPPs in the lineup of flagship infrastructure projects to see that there must be a more efficient and purposeful way of evaluation. Will an exam improve the quality of PPP projects in the future? Perhaps.

Since we’re on the topic, maybe an equally challenging exam can be given to political appointees before they are assigned to their lofty posts.

—Miguel R. Camus INQ
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