LifeFlight helicopters pulled from servicing hospital rooftops by choice: Canadian Helicopters

A LifeFlight helicopter is seen landing at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax. Ross Lord / Global News

The Nova Scotia government has been left a little in the lurch since it announced Friday that LifeFlight helicopters would no longer be landing on the rooftop landing pads at the IWK Health Centre, Halifax Infirmary and Digby General Hospital.

Canadian Helicopters, however, is saying it was their decision to pull the helicopters from use.

Canadian Helicopters has been providing the LifeFlight service for Nova Scotia since 1996, using a Sikorsky S-76A helicopter. Last year it flew 389 of 750 LifeFlight missions at a cost of $3.6 million.

In 2007 Transport Canada tightened aviation regulations concerning what type of aircraft can fly over densely populated areas of the country.

At that point Canadian Helicopters was advised that their Sakorsky did not meet the new enhanced requirements for H1 hospital helipads — such as the ones atop the three Nova Scotia hospitals.

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Transport Canada does annual spot checks and audits for thousands of aerodrome locations in Canada. Investigations for non-compliance of regulations are met with corrective actions.

On April 1, 2016 Transport Canada contacted Canadian Helicopters to complete an audit on their conformity to regulations, where it was determined the company’s 1980 model Sikorsky S-76A was still landing on densely populated hospital roof tops.

Canadian Helicopters had three choices at that point:

  • Buy another helicopter.
  •  Ask for operator’s exemption from Transport Canada.
  • Mitigate the risk.

They chose to pull the helicopter from servicing the hospitals.

Critically injured or ill patients are now being transported instead to Point Pleasant Park and then taken to hospital in ambulances.

A LifeFlight helicopter is seen dropping off a patient in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, who was then transported to hospital in an ambulance. Ross Lord/Global News

EHS and the Nova Scotia government also announced the implementation of a new mobile critical care unit that would transport patients by ground to area hospitals.

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Health department spokesperson Tony Kiritsis says the new mobile critical care unit will be used to transport patients with intensive medical needs to Halifax hospitals with no additional cost to taxpayers.

Colin Flynn, program manager for EHS LifeFlight in Nova Scotia, says the new critical care ambulance was purchased to reduce the pressure on current ground ambulance transportation.

“Overall, it’s adding approximately 15 minutes to the transport time, but, the patients are still in the care of critical care teams,” said Flynn.

Flynn says the optimal permanent solution to landing on hospital helipads is for a replacement of the current helicopter.

The Nova Scotia government is working closely with Canadian Helicopters to explore all replacement options for the this aircraft says Jean Spicer, spokesperson for Emergency Health Services.


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