Search and Rescue requesting immediate action on helipad 

Goal is to restore single engine helicopter landing at Whistler Health Care Centre

click to enlarge CRITCAL CARE A B.C. Air Ambulance lands at the Whistler Health Care Centre last summer. The twin-engine ambulances are cleared to land at the helipad but the single engine choppers are currently banned by Transport Canada regulations.
  • CRITCAL CARE A B.C. Air Ambulance lands at the Whistler Health Care Centre last summer. The twin-engine ambulances are cleared to land at the helipad but the single engine choppers are currently banned by Transport Canada regulations.

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"We're going to keep moving this forward because it's the right thing to do."

According to Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson Anna Marie D'Angelo the organization recognizes the level of community interest in reopening the health care centre to single-engine helicopters and has arranged a meeting with the Resort Municipality of Whistler to discuss the issue. Last time the topic was discussed, the cost and loss of trees derailed talks.

"Before we went to Transport Canada we had planned to have single engine landing (at the health care centre)... but to do that the flight path has to be free of the trees that are there," she said. "It would have had to happen anyway for that classification, and there are still a number of trees to come down to be in compliance for twin engines. But with the council of the day there wasn't the appetite for that."

That said, the official position of Vancouver Coastal Health is that the current situation doesn't pose a safety risk. "The helicopter landing situation is safe for our patients the way it is set up now, we have no qualms about that," said D'Angelo.

Sills and WSAR members have also requested a meeting with the municipality to discuss the situation and to get a sense of what the upgrades would cost so they can make a business case for the changes. For example, while they are adamant that opening the helipad to single engine helicopters could save lives and improve patient care, Sills said it also makes economic sense to use single engine helicopters that are cheaper to operate.

In WSAR's last annual report (Feb. 19, 2012 to Feb. 19, 2013) helicopters were used in 31 of 34 active searches and rescues. While the Provincial Emergency Program pays those costs, people are heading further into the backcountry than before, requiring more helicopter time than in the past.

"To charter a twin engine helicopter is more expensive than hiring a single engine," said Sills. "If you're running a business it makes sense to have single engines because they can do all the work of twin engines and they're cheaper to buy and cheaper to run.

"They're lighter and the power-to-weight ratio is much better, and the new ones have redundant hydraulics in them as well. It's reasonable to think that if the engine fails you'd be in a lot of trouble... but having two engines doesn't necessarily clear up all the problems. There's still one gearbox, one tail rotor, one hydraulic system that runs it all. Having twins doesn't mean we're never going to have a crash."

If they can't get the helipad reconfigured, Sills said they would appeal to Transport Canada to allow single engine helicopters to land at the health care centre in critical life and death situations.

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