Pressure to land single-engine aircraft at helipad continues 

Traffic-control system to be adopted permanently

click to enlarge limited landings
  • limited landings

Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) is keeping up the political pressure when it comes to lobbying for changes to the million-dollar helipad at the Whistler Health Care Centre.

For the past four years, search and rescue crews have been unable to land single-engine helicopters at the medical pad, forcing them to detour to the municipal helipad north of the centre. Transport Canada safety regulations prevent the landing of helicopters with one engine in this type of setting.

On a good day it takes about 11 minutes to drive from the helipad to the health care centre, but on a snowy day that drive can stretch to 30 minutes, potentially impacting the recovery of patients.

While that did not have a negative impact on any of the rescues this year, WSAR manager Brad Sills said that might not be the case at the next rescue, or the one after that.

"So far not," he said of the helipad's impact on rescues. "But that can change any day."

Sills has presented the case to the municipality and has been assured that progress is being made.

"We're on it," he vowed. "We're going to stay on it."

Of the 42 tasks completed by WSAR in the last year, according to its just-released annual report, 29 required long-line helicopter rescue missions. The majority of all rescues are done by single-engine craft (12 of 16 helicopters in the Blackcomb Aviation fleet are single engine, for example).

Meanwhile, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) said it plans to make the traffic control system currently in place a permanent solution.

VCH spokesperson Anna Marie D'Angelo said there haven't been any aborted landings since temporary traffic control measures were put in place to ensure all traffic and pedestrians stop, as helicopters are taking off or landing at the helipad.

The temporary measures were put in place after traffic control lighting was installed at the insistence of Transport Canada. When the lighting was tested Transport Canada ruled it wasn't effective enough, so additional measures were put in place.

VCH partnered with the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the two organizations arranged to have fire fighters, health centre staff and B.C. ambulance personnel take to the streets and ensure pedestrians and drivers obey traffic-stopping signals while the helipad is in use.

"Everything has been going very well," said D'Angelo.

"The next stage would be drafting a proposal including capital costs to make it a permanent solution."

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden is satisfied with the situation, for now.

"It seems to be working," she said.

"We are not aware of any complaints, and we still have staff that are going out there to help manage pedestrians.

"It's up to VCH to take the next step."

There's no timeline for the formalization of the traffic management system.

According to recent Vancouver Coastal Health statistics, an average of one patient per week has to be transported from the municipal helipad to the Whistler Health Care Centre by ambulance. The health care centre averages two medical evacuations from the Whistler Health Care Centre to hospitals in the Lower Mainland every week, using B.C.'s air ambulance service.

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