Helipad open for business: VCH

Transport Canada gives final stamp of approval

The helipad at Whistler Health Care Centre finally passed its Transport Canada (TC) inspection and has been ready to operate as of noon on Friday (June 29).

"We're open for business," said Trudi Beutel from Vancouver Coastal Health.

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"We go through all the processes involved in landing a helicopter or having one take off. It's a trial run and they watch carefully to make sure that we're abiding by all Transport Canada rules and regulations as they pertain to helivac landings."

At Tuesday's (July 3) council meeting Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden noted the helipad is up-and-running meaning those with urgent medical needs can be transferred."This has been a frustrating and trying time so it's good to see this is open," she said. "Now patients can be transported."

The TC inspection involved a mock scenario of a helivac landing, reviewing all the procedures such as the control of pedestrian and motor traffic at the adjacent intersection of Blackcomb Way and Lorimer Road.

"When they ran through the mock the controls weren't robust enough to stop both traffic and pedestrians," said Beutel of the failed inspection in February.

"So we failed that inspection and we went back to the RMOW and redesigned the system. That was the bulk of the work from February until now."

A new set of traffic lights was installed at the intersection, which included more obvious signage and lighting. Several staff from the Whistler Medical Centre have also been trained to help direct traffic in the case of a helivac and the centre received additional funding for the training.

Since April 2011 all medical helicopter traffic has been diverted to the municipal airport about 10 km north on Highway 99, adding precious minutes of travel time to potentially life threatening injuries. On top of the issue of controlling traffic, trees around the helipad had to be removed, concrete spalling (flaking of concrete fragments on pad's surface) had to be controlled and installing the heating system (to remove snow and ice) was delayed.

The issue of emergency landing pad has been an ongoing saga for both the community and VCH. Transport Canada first gave notice improvements were required to VCH in late 2009 and gave it the deadline of November 2011 to meet its regulations. VCH did not approach council until October 2010 to ask permission about the necessary changes. Trees were removed in December 2010 and traffic control was managed by RCMP, Whistler Blackcomb staff and health care centre staff to allow twin engine helicopters to land, a temporary approval by TC.

In April 2011 the pad was closed to all air traffic while upgrade work was undertaken, the closure running much longer than expected. Friday at noon was the official green light to resume operation.

Beutel finished by extending appreciation to the RMOW and the community of Whistler.

"We'd like to thank the community as well as the RMOW and the Regional Hospital District for their patience over the past two years. It's been a long, long project and a very complex one so we're glad it's up and running and everyone waited patiently for it. We are aware that the bike season is very busy, that was the deadline we were working towards. "

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