• Kyodo News

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Medical helicopters flew 5,635 times in fiscal 2008 ended this March, or more than six times more than when Japan launched aeromedical services in 2000, a medical society reported Saturday.

The number of hospitals participating in the service rose to 18 from only five in the first year, but expanding that will require more finances and medical staff, the Japanese Society for Aeromedical Services said.

An aeromedical helicopter costs about ¥170 million a year to operate, a sum that is paid by the central and municipal governments. The government has earmarked enough funds for six more helicopters in fiscal 2009.

But the subsidies are far short of what is necessary because the government’s estimate of how often they are used is far below reality, and this is starting to make other hospitals reluctant about participating in the service, the society said.

An aeromedical helicopter can cover an area with a 50-km radius in 15 minutes.

Compared with ambulances, helicopters shorten response times by an average of 26 minutes, which reduces fatalities by 27 percent.

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