Nova Scotia

New LifeFlight helicopters ready for takeoff after delays

Nova Scotia's two new life-saving helicopters have now been cleared for landing on the roofs of Halifax's hospitals, which wasn't allowed for the last 18 months.

'Minutes count when you're talking about the sickest of patients,' says LifeFlight manager

One of the new LifeFlight helicopters was on display Wednesday, but the other was out responding to a call. (CBC)

The province's two new life-saving helicopters were cleared for takeoff Friday after months of delays.

The aircraft were also cleared for landing on the roofs of Halifax's hospitals — which hasn't been allowed for 18 months.

LifeFlight Tango and LifeFlight November are equipped with a weather feed, more powerful engines, a cockpit that works with night vision goggles and backup life-saving equipment.

"The ability to land directly at the rooftop and directly at that specialty service will mean multiple minutes in savings of time and of course minutes count when you're talking about the sickest of patients," said Colin Flynn, program manager for EHS LifeFlight, on Wednesday.

Transport Canada changes

The province previously had just one helicopter for the job, but when Transport Canada changed its certification rules in April 2016, the helicopter was no longer allowed to land on helipads at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, IWK Health Centre and Digby General Hospital.

Colin Flynn, program manager for EHS LifeFlight, says landing in Point Pleasant Park was adding time to their routes. (CBC)

After that, the helicopter was forced to land at a certified helipad in Point Pleasant Park and patients were whisked into an ambulance from there.

The province reached a $105-million, 15-year lease agreement for the new helicopters with Canadian Helicopters Ltd. in January.

Four months of delays

The two new Sikorsky S-76C+ helicopters were supposed to be ready in August to help answer the 700 to 800 calls EHS LifeFlight responds to each year.

But the company agreed to make enhancements to the cabin based on feedback from the LifeFlight team, which meant more time to finish the project, Health Minister Randy Delorey said on Wednesday. That did not cost anything extra, he added.

The helicopters were then scheduled to take off in October. But Delorey said they were forced to wait for Transport Canada to finish its certification process.

Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey speaks to the crowd at the unveiling of the two new LifeFlight helicopters. (CBC)

"You rely on Transport Canada, when they're available to come in and do their tests and complete their certifications. Throughout that process we've certainly stayed in touch. At no point was there any indication of concerns.… It was just, again, the time of the process it took," he said.

The new helicopters have more powerful engines, weather feeds and backup life-saving equipment. (CBC)

Sylvain Seguin, vice-president and chief operating officer of Canadian Helicopters Ltd., said the certification is complete and stays with the aircraft, meaning it won't cause delays in the future.

"Even though the aircraft were physically ready to go, we were waiting on documentation, on paperwork, on certification. So it's a bit of a process."

Seguin said the upgrade and maintenance schedule depends on the part of the aircraft. Some parts are inspected annually, while others are based on the amount of time the aircraft has been in flight.

New technology

Seguin also said some of the new technology in the helicopters was a first for some of the pilots.

Captain Chris Heusler said the new technology in the cockpit will help make his job easier.

"It's like sitting behind the computer at home, we can see exactly what the weather is doing … which makes it a lot safer — especially if we fly into Cape Breton at night, you have limited resources in terms of stations on the ground," he said.

Captain Chris Heusler was part of the team making recommendations for what the new helicopters should include. (CBC)

"The aircraft has a lot more power so now we can do more things we couldn't do before … even going into tight, confined areas, like if we land on the highway, for instance."

Delorey said the old Sikorsky S-76A helicopter has been decommissioned.