STARS gets first of two new $16-million choppers

Getting helicopters to patients and patients to treatment just got easier for STARS Air Ambulance as they roll out the first of two new aircraft.

Getting helicopters to patients and patients to treatment just got easier for STARS Air Ambulance as they roll out the first of two new aircraft.

Mike Lamacchia, STARS vice-president of Alberta operations, said the flight, using the old aircraft, from Calgary to Red Deer takes about 30 to 35 minutes, then the same amount of time going back to a Calgary hospital.

The new aircraft will reduce the flight time by five to 10 minutes, and cost about $16 million per unit.

It was good foresight when the Red Deer Regional Hospital heli-pad was built because it is able to accommodate this larger type of aircraft, said Lamacchia.

The new AW139s choppers are 16.67 metres from front to back, while the old BK117s are 13 metres long.

The first of two new, longer range helicopters arrived late last week.

An AW139 arrived in Edmonton on Dec. 14, with the next one scheduled to arrive in 2013.

With the new helicopter there will also be new training for their flight crews.

Lamacchia said STARS has been working on a fleet replacement strategy for 10 years. “The AW139 is the one we chose to take us to a new level of technology,” said Lamacchia. “It’s a completely different type of aircraft.”

The new aircraft travel at 278 km/h while the old helicopters only fly at 225 km/h, which translates to a 25 per cent increase in speed.

Also, the range is a third more than the previous model.

“We can reach further so we’re in remote areas, where you don’t have a fixed wing (airplane) or ground ambulance capability,” said Lamacchia.

“We can reach further on a single tank of gas, which is important for rural and remote.”

There is also de-icing capabilities on the rotor blades of the aircraft, which Lamacchia said means STARS can make more trips into inclement weather.

“There is a percentage of missions we had to turn down because of known icing or inclement weather. Some of these we’ll be able to do,” said Lamacchia.

Another improvement is the expanded space for two patients. While the BK117 helicopters could carry two patients simultaneously, the new AW139s have more space.

“This aircraft can carry two patients quite easily and you can manage them much more effectively with two patient loads,” said Lamacchia.

While Edmonton’s new helicopter was unveiled late last week, it won’t be operational until the new year. Calgary’s new helicopter is expected to arrive by mid-2013.

The aircraft are made by AgustaWestland of Philadelphia, Pa.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com

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