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Background: A national air ambulance service, including helicopters and airplanes, was implemented in Norway in 1988. The main intention was to offer advanced medical services when needed. All helicopters are manned by anesthesiologists. Catchment areas for the 11 helicopters span from cities to scarcely populated areas, particularly in the north. Our aim was to assess what proportion of ambulance missions carried out by the rescue helicopter in Bodø, northern Norway, delivered advanced medical treatment needing the skills of an anesthesiologist. Methods: Flight and ambulance records (n = 2078) from 1988 and 1990–98 (10 years) were analyzed retrospectively. Inter-hospital transfers (n = 147) and search- and rescue missions (n = 332) were not included. According to the level of medical treatment given missions were categorized into three groups (A, B and C). Treatment in groups A and B would not require an anesthesiologist. Results: Two thousand and seventy-eight ambulance missions carried 2166 patients (114 per 100 000 per year). Median take-off and on-scene times were 29 and 55 min, respectively. Seven hundred and fifty-five patients (35%) suffered from cardiovascular disease, 495 (23%) were injured and 250 (12%) were parturients. One hundred and seven patients (5.0%) received advanced prehospital emergency treatment requiring an anesthesiologist. Forty-five of the 107 patients survived to discharge from hospital, amongst whom 28 had received intravenous nitroglycerin for angina or suspected myocardial infarction. Conclusion: In our rural area, with a widely scattered population, 95% of patients received medical treatment not requiring an anesthesiologist. A selective use of the anesthesiologist seems indicated.