The Alberta government announced the purchase of a new $13-million helicopter to help replace the aging STARS fleet on Saturday in Calgary.
STARS Air Ambulance was founded in the 1980s and many of its 11 choppers that are in use today are part of that original fleet.
“They are now legacy, which means they don’t make them as they are anymore,” said STARS founder Dr. Greg Powell. “We have to source parts from unusual places, so it is time for a new fleet. So just on the maintenance to stay airborne and be there when it matters, getting new machines is pretty important.”
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman made the announcement on Saturday that the province has bought a new Airbus H145, saying it will reduce training and maintenance costs, and enhance pilot and patient safety.
The new helicopter, she said, should be in operation this spring.
“They definitely have done a great job of responding to calls over the years, but it is time to get some new helicopters to keep everyone safe and to make sure we have the best technology and reliability for Albertans across our province,” Hoffman said.
STARS pilot John Carson said the old choppers had no autopilot. He said the new ones not only have superior technology, but can carry up to 400 kilograms more weight.
“These newer aircraft have a whole new level of technology, mostly with respect to automation, which really makes our job a lot easier in many respects,” Carson said.
“There’s two engines in the aircraft in the event that if one were to fail, we have a substantially larger amount of power available on one engine. So there’s that safety factor, but also by virtue of the fact that they have more powerful engines, we can carry more weight.”
Hank Postma was airlifted by STARS Air Ambulance in December 2014 after having a heart attack at Nakiska Ski Area. He’s thrilled to hear about the addition of the new chopper.
“I was dying and they got me to the staff at Foothills Hospital in enough time to put a stent in my heart. I have a second chance at life,” Postma said. “I would have died without STARS. Ground travel would not have worked. I am very fortunate. They refer to the helicopters here in the hangar as birds and I call them angels.”
STARS is now raising funds to buy four more new helicopters.
In Alberta, STARS flew over 1,450 missions in 2018 from bases in Calgary, Edmonton and Grand Prairie.