April 29, 2016 1:18 pm
Updated: May 2, 2016 6:05 pm

Regulation bans NS LifeFlight helicopter from landing at hospital pads

A LifeFlight helicopter lands on the helicopter pad at the Halifax Infirmary.

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The emergency helicopter that flies critically ill patients to helipads at hospitals in Halifax and Digby, N.S., has been banned from rooftop landings under federal regulations, sending the province scrambling to find a replacement chopper that can once again fly patients straight to a hospital’s helipad.

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Health Minister Leo Glavine said Friday that Transport Canada told Emergency Health Services (EHS), which operates the LifeFlight helicopter, April 1 that its Sikorsky S-76A doesn’t have the certification level required to land on helipads in densely populated areas.

That means the landings were discontinued immediately at the Halifax Infirmary, the IWK Health Centre and the Digby General Hospital.

Glavine said the helicopter is now landing in Halifax at a certified helipad near Point Pleasant Park and at a parking lot at the Halifax airport. In Digby it is landing at the nearby airport.

He said while the company and his department were caught off guard by the federal decision, officials moved within 48 hours to come up with an alternate plan, which includes finding a replacement helicopter and perhaps a second to serve as a backup.

“The helicopter that we currently have should not be landing in a rooftop setting, so as a result if it can’t land 365 days of a year then it’s not going to be in service,” Glavine said.

The current lease for the helicopter service costs $3.6 million a year and Glavine said a final cost for the replacement lease won’t be known until a new helicopter is found and put in service – a process expected to take seven to nine months.

With the helicopter now landing at an alternate site, EHS has launched a new mobile ground-transfer unit about six months ahead of schedule.

“It can be a neo-natal unit in one instance and then look after any kind of trauma of an adult and it will move the patient from the site at Point Pleasant Park to the Halifax Infirmary or the IWK,” Glavine said. “It’s a little loss of time, but in terms of emergency care there is no interruption.”

The current LifeFlight helicopter, which was manufactured in 1980, recently passed its regular Transport Canada safety inspection according to the company.

It flew 389 of the 750 missions flown by EHS last year. The company also has an airplane based at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Colin Flynn, the program manager for EHS LifeFlight, said when the helicopter was built there were few elevated helipads operating at hospitals so Sikorsky didn’t seek the specific certification for takeoffs and landings.

“The certification is something that is acquired at the time of design and build of the helicopter and the A model has not been in production for many years,” said Flynn. “The only recourse would be to replace the aircraft.”

Flynn said a total of 28 landings have been made at Point Pleasant Park since the regulator’s decision. He said EHS has been using the helipad for the past six years as part of its emergency program.

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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