Air ambulances diverted to Pitt Meadows airport

Helicopters barred from landing at seven B.C. hospitals.

An air ambulance landed at Albion Sports Complex in east Maple Ridge in February after a man fell from a roof.

Air ambulance patients are being re-routed to Pitt Meadows Regional Airport because helicopters have been barred from landing at seven B.C. hospitals.

There is no landing pad at Ridge Meadows hospital, but Tasleem Juma of Fraser Health said both Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster and Surrey Memorial Hospital are among those.

Vancouver General and B.C. Children’s Hospital are two other Lower Mainland hospitals where air ambulances can no longer land since Friday, Aug. 12.

Patients being taken to Royal Columbian or Surrey Memorial are now re-routed to Pitt Meadows airport, where they are transferred into an ambulance and driven to hospital.

It is 22 kilometres from Pitt airport to Royal Columbian, and 18 km to Surrey Memorial.

The drives add about 15 minutes to a trip that would otherwise be less by helicopter, according to health officials.

Helijet International, the company contracted to operate air ambulance service in B.C., has been ordered by Transport Canada to stop landing at the hospitals, because its Sikorsky S76 aircraft do not comply with regulations.

“The care and safety of our patients is our first priority. Patients requiring air ambulance service are being flown to affected hospitals via alternate landing sites nearby, then transported by ground ambulance, accompanied by highly-trained paramedics,” said Jodi Jensen, chief operating officer, B.C. Emergency Health Services.

“We welcome Transport Canada’s review of Helijet’s operations to give us all assurance that our patients and air ambulance crews continue to be safe. As part of our agreement, we require and expect Helijet to fully comply with all applicable aviation regulations, and to take whatever steps are necessary to comply, including equipment or fleet enhancements.

Health services, Transport Canada and Helijet are working to restore service to the seven hospital landing pads, but no resolution has been reached yet.

Jensen added that ambulance services in Maple Ridge have not been affected.

“It is rare for us to respond to calls in Maple Ridge by air ambulance, due to its close proximity by ground ambulance to hospitals in the region. That said, we will continue to closely monitor and evaluate our operations in Maple Ridge, in an effort to ensure we continue to have no impacts to service.”

A B.C. Emergency Health Services spokesperson said air ambulance calls make up a small percentage of the overall number of those for paramedics. There are about 1,500 calls for emergency ambulance service across the province every day, but in the past week there has been just one patient diverted from Pitt Meadows airport.

However, Helijet does almost 700 landings at the seven hospitals each year. Other hospitals affected are in Nanaimo, Comox and Sechelt.

The hospitals Helijet can no longer land all have landing pads with an H1 designation, meaning they are in urban areas or sites where takeoff and landing is restricted.

Helijet has been working with Transport Canada, seeking an exemption while it works to resolve the safety issues, and demonstrate that its aircraft are in compliance.

The company has said it has been operating air ambulances in the province for 18 years.


– with files from CTV BC


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