New air ambulance operator to take over in Peace River

Can-West Aviation will begin providing ambulance service in Peace River in April, replacing longtime operator Northern Air.

CanWest Aviation to begin operations April 1

CanWest will operate one 24-hour emergency air ambulance stationed in Peace River, starting on April 1. (Supplied)

CanWest Aviation will begin providing ambulance service in Peace River in April, replacing longtime operator Northern Air. 

Alberta Health Services made the announcement in a press release Thursday evening, despite the fact that there has been an ongoing dispute with the two airline operators over which company should deliver the service. 

CanWest will have one emergency, fixed-wing air ambulance in Peace River available around the clock. The plane will be stationed on the tarmac, according to the press release. 

A second plane, which will be used for scheduled air ambulance service in northern communities, will be based in Grande Prairie. 

Contract dispute ​

After a request for proposals in March 2017, Alberta Health Services awarded CanWest the contracts for eight air ambulance locations across the province, including Peace River.

However, CanWest, which does not have a hangar at the Peace River Airport, didn't have the infrastructure in place to begin operations right away prompting a one-year extension for operator Northern Air. 

Northern Air filed an application for judicial review in September 2017, citing concerns with CanWest's ability to meet the province's air ambulance infrastructure criteria as well as its experience with specialized services. 

The judicial review is scheduled for June 2018.

CanWest sues 

Meanwhile, a separate legal action was initiated after CanWest negotiated to obtain a former helicopter hangar at the airport through a lease transfer. 

Peace River Mayor Tom Tarpey has told CBC News the town received legal advice not to proceed with said transfer until after the judicial review.

Can-West sued the Town of Peace River in November 2017; last month, a judge ruled the town was being unreasonable. 

Parked on the tarmac

CanWest's lack of a hangar at the Peace River airport is an issue that both Alberta Health Services and the town are working on rectifying, according to the AHS press release.

It is working with the town, and the town is working with CanWest, "on having a hangar at the Peace River Airport," said the release.

Northern Air has also weighed in with concerns about leaving an air ambulance parked outside.

It "has the potential to cause major delays," notably in the winter, when the plane will have to be de-iced and warmed inside, the company said in a press release. 

"This entire RFP process has been flawed from the beginning and is why Northern Air filed an application for a judicial review in October 2017," stated Northern Air president Nate Hilman.

Northern Air said in the press release that it will file for an emergency injunction in Peace River.