Air ambulance flights operated by BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) partner Helijet International will be restored at all hospital helipads in B.C. by 8:30 a.m. Friday.
The resumption of flights is thanks to Transport Canada approval of a new flight manual supplement for the Sikorsky S76C+ helicopters used by Helijet. Approval of the new supplement follows months of collaboration between BCEHS, Helijet, Maxcraft Avionics, Sikorsky Aircraft and Transport Canada to test and validate certain flight operating procedures for the aircraft.
Questions raised by Transport Canada last spring resulted in Helijet voluntarily stopping its Sikorsky 76C+ air ambulances from landing at up to seven B.C. hospital helipads, pending the go-ahead by the federal regulator.
Lower Mainland hospitals affected included BC Children’s, Vancouver General, Royal Columbian and Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Air ambulances were diverted to Pitt Meadows Airport, and other landing sites, where they were transferred to ground ambulances before continuing to these hospitals. In all, 37 flights were diverted to other sites.
Exemptions were granted in some circumstances, while the questions were being addressed. As a result, Helijet flights had already been restored last August at five of the seven hospitals, but remained restricted until now at the Royal Columbian and Surrey Memorial Hospital helipads, where BCEHS was using an alternate service provider.
The matter was eventually resolved when Helijet was able to work with Transport Canada and an independent aviation expert to conduct detailed aircraft testing, resulting in a new “Supplemental Type Certificate” or STC.
“This outcome is a real credit to the hard work and collaboration of our government and service-partners to put patients’ interests first,” said Linda Lupini, executive vice president of Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) and BCEHS. “We are grateful to Transport Canada for the time and effort they dedicated to working with Helijet, Maxcraft Avionics, Sikorsky and us at BCEHS to resolve this issue.”
The BCEHS air ambulance fleet has a total of nine aircraft – four helicopters and five airplanes, based in Vancouver, Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George and Prince Rupert. Helijet operates three of the helicopters. BCEHS air ambulances carry approximately 8,000 patients a year.