Helipad upgrades not one size fits all

It seems the issue with the Whistler's Health Care Centre helipad is far from over.

This week The Question received information from an anonymous source that raised this topic we thought was resolved at the beginning of the summer. Yes the helipad is open, but not for all types of helicopters.

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It appears the nuances between single-engine and twin-engine helicopters will continue to be a thorn in the side of emergency services in Whistler.

The two types of aircraft understandably have two sets of standards with Transport Canada, the regulatory body that oversees everything airborne. When Vancouver Coastal Health underwent changes to the helipad, it only set out to meet the standard for the larger, twin-engine aircraft, which coincidentally is what B.C.'s entire fleet of air ambulances operates.

So the safety regulations for single-engine helicopters were left unfixed, and for those of us who had to Google the difference between the two, it went unnoticed.

Not everybody in the helicopter industry has been keen to make the costly upgrade from singles to twins; the latter purported to provide better safety in the event of an engine failure. Therefore, not everybody flies them like the air ambulance service.

Blackcomb Aviation is often called out to rescue situations with injured people on the ski hill, in the backcountry and involved in motor vehicle accidents in the highway. Their fleet has 11 single-engine aircraft out of 16.

If they are in a situation where they only have a single engine to respond to a call out, it will have to fly to the Municipal Heliport past Emerald Estates and the injured person takes an 11-minute ambulance ride to the medical centre. It's not like, in emergency situations, time is of the essence or anything of that sort. We're sure the injured person will chalk up the added time and transfers from aircraft to ambulance to medical clinic as part of the overall visitor experience.

It seems that considering all possible emergency scenarios and planning to accommodate them while undergoing extensive and time consuming upgrades to the helipad and the surrounding area was too much to ask. Likely it would have added more delays to a process already criticized for taking to long.

The issue, it appears, is the trees in the surrounding area. The regulations would require extensive removal for an acceptable flight path. The helipad can handle the landing of both types of aircraft, just not the landing and approach of the single-engines.

VCH contends that tree removal is not its jurisdiction and it is up to the municipality to undertake that work. True enough, but it would have been nice to know that fact and its obvious implications for local rescue operations two years ago when this process began.

In situations like this, with government departments practicing the politics of omission when it comes to issues of public safety, that gets us a bit riled up here at The Question.

VCH's handling of the upgrades to the helipad has been confusing, time consuming, and now it appears they also failed to accommodate all possible emergency situations and aircraft.

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