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Air-ambulance contractor ceases hospital landings after Transport Canada order

Choppers deemed unsuitable for night flights


(Canadian OH&S News) — An organization that provides air-ambulance services in southwestern British Columbia has suspended landings at seven hospital heliports in the area. The suspension is based on the safety concerns of Transport Canada (TC), which claims that the aircraft are not properly designed for night flights in populated urban areas.

Helijet International Inc., which has been contracted to provide medevac helicopters for British Columbia Air Ambulance Services for the past 18 years, is currently landing the choppers at local airports or helipads, from which patients are transported to hospitals by ground ambulance. The company has stated that TC withdrew an exemption that had allowed the company to land at hospitals directly.

“Recent inspections discovered areas of non-compliance with requirements for the helicopters to be able to maneuver during engine failure while operating in built-up urban areas,” TC regional communications officer Sau Sau Liu told COHSN.

“For heliport operations, the aircraft must be configured in accordance with all of the manufacturer’s specifications for vertical operations,” continued Liu. “One of several specific requirements is a vertical visibility pilot door, which improves the pilot’s ability to see the landing area immediately below the aircraft in the event of an emergency landing.”

The facilities at which Helijet has suspended direct landings include Vancouver General Hospital, B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital, Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

Helijet has declined to provide comment to the media on the matter, except for a press statement that Rick Hill, the company’s vice president of commercial and business programs, sent out on Aug. 18.

“We are working with provincial health authorities to ensure patient care and safety is maintained,” Hill said in the statement. “In the interim, Helijet is actively engaged with Transport Canada to meet regulatory requirements and has also applied for an exemption so regular service can resume as soon as possible.”

Hill added that the company “has provided exemplary safe, efficient and timely emergency transportation for British Columbians.”

Although the company reportedly has a stellar overall safety record, the crew of a Helijet Sikorsky S76C+ copter temporarily lost control of the aircraft last Nov. 15, while on their way from Vancouver International Airport to Tofino/Long Beach Airport. There were no injuries or fatalities, but the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) later determined that the aerodrome had not been certified for night landings.

“A post-landing inspection revealed the presence of oil on the rotor blades and airframe,” the TSB stated in an investigation update on Dec. 15. “Rotor hub spindle components were damaged, and a rotor head damper oil hose was pulled apart. Helijet maintenance crews changed these components, disabled the cockpit voice recorder/flight data recorder unit, and the helicopter was flown back to Vancouver later that day.”

Although the aircraft was back in medevac service after further inspection, it was taken out of commission again after the discovery that its main-rotor transmission had been exposed to excessive torque during the Vancouver-Tofino flight. The TSB investigation of the incident is still ongoing.

Liu said that TC offers safety exemptions to transportation companies only after rigorous risk assessments. “Conditions associated with the exemption include mitigation to ensure an equivalent level of safety is maintained,” she explained. “We are working with Helijet, the B.C. Emergency Health Services and the Provincial Health Authority regarding this matter.

“Transport Canada recognizes the importance of helipads to hospitals and health centres and the critical service they provide to patients.”