STARS to buy new fleet with help from $65M in federal budget

Tuesday's federal budget included a one-time payment of $65 million to STARS for the purchase of new emergency ambulance helicopters.

Each helicopter costs about $13M

“For Saskatchewan our goal is to operate 24/7 between the two cities, Saskatoon and Regina,” Lamacchia said, “This bit of funding boost will help us for sure.” (STARS Air Ambulance/Twitter)

Tuesday's federal budget included a one-time payment of $65 million to Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) for the purchase of new emergency ambulance helicopters.

STARS is a non-profit organization that provides air ambulance services to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and parts of British Columbia. STARS says these services are especially important to rural and Indigenous communities in the prairies.

Mike Lamacchia, vice-president of operations for STARS, said there is nothing wrong with the service's current helicopters, but that one of their models has been deemed a legacy aircraft, making future maintenance difficult and costly.

"The parts will become an issue which will then become a service ability and availability issue," Lamacchia said, "We started our capital and our journey fleet renewal program over a year ago because we knew this was coming."

STARS will need nine new emergency ambulance helicopters: five for Alberta, three for Saskatchewan and one for Manitoba.

Lamacchia says the $65 million included in the federal budget is enough to purchase five STARS helicopters for emergency ambulance use.

"Each one of them costs roughly $13 million," he said.

He said the current fleet will be sold to help pay for the other new helicopters.

From two separate models to one

Lamacchia said STARS is looking to standardize its fleet and move from having from two models, the BK117 and the AW139, to one model, the Airbus H145 aircraft. He says this will make it easier for training purposes and make maintenance easier.

"It's really important to have a unified fleet," Lamacchia said, "And for the pilots, that obviously fly the aircraft, to have standardised cockpits so they're not going from one type to another type."

Lamacchia said he is excited for the money, but STARS will still need to raise around $10.5 million annually to continue operation.


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