Transport Canada is adamant there were no issues that required seven rural hospital heliports to be shut down.
However Alberta Health Services continues to say the heliports, including the one at Sundre Hospital, were in non-compliance with Transport Canada regulations.
“(The helipads) were not closed by Transport Canada. Alberta Health Services recent decision to close and then re-open . . . its heliports was not the result of any Transport Canada inspection. It wasn’t the result of any Transport Canada requirement and it wasn’t the result of any Transport Canada new regulations,” Andrea Rudniski, a spokesperson with Transport Canada, said Thursday.
“As an operator, Alberta Health Services can voluntarily choose to close or open any of its heliports at any time.” Alberta Health Services has still not said specifically why the Sundre Hospital’s heliport had to be shut down or what needs to be fixed.
Businesses and people in Sundre have approached Mayor Roy Cummings to say they will fix whatever needs to be done.
The rural heliports were closed June 30 and re-opened on an interim basis on July 8. Alberta Health Services Board Chairman Ken Hughes told media the heliports could re-open after Alberta Health Services was given an extension by Transport Canada to meet regulations.
Sheila Rougeau, spokesperson for Alberta Health Services, also said Thursday Transport Canada’s role is to define the regulations, and it is up to Alberta Health Services, as the operator of the heliports, to ensure they are in compliance with those regulations.
She said because the heliports were not in compliance, Alberta Health Services made the decision in consultation with Transport Canada to close the heliports.
“We value Transport Canada’s input. It’s valuable and we need it and want it going forward because they are the ones who determine what the regulations are. And so in discussions with them we have to balance the risk factors with both closing them or leaving them open,” Rougeau said.
“It was in consultation again with Transport Canada that (Alberta Health Services) made the decision to re-open the heliports on an interim basis while we work through a provincial patient transportation plan going forward. And that will provide the guidelines on how the helipads will be operated or if remediation needs to take place to bring them up to standard or not,” said Rougeau.
The Sundre Hospital heliport was last inspected by Transport Canada in June 2006, according to Rudniski, of Transport Canada. Rudniski said that following the inspection there were no findings that had an immediate impact on flight safety and as a result Alberta Health Services did not have to develop corrective action plans.
Wainwright, Barrhead and Castor certified heliport sites were inspected by Transport Canada between March 2008 and February 2009 and were found to have minor safety deficiencies, including the need for a few minor changes to their heliport operation manual, a few trees required trimming and some helipad markings required fresh paint.
Rudniski said the minor deficiencies at the three helipads were “absolutely not” of a nature that the helipads would have been required to shut down. For a heliport site to shut down there would need to be major deficiencies, such as a power line or light pole directly in the approach and departure path of the helipad or large holes bigger than an average pothole on the helipad surface, Rudniski said.
The other three heliports at Didsbury, Westlock and Consort are registered heliports, which are in less developed areas, and as a result they are not inspected by Transport Canada, although they still must comply with safety regulations. Certified heliports, such as the one in Sundre, are in more highly populated areas and are inspected by Transport Canada.
Alberta Health Services spokesperson Rougeau said she did not have a list specific to each helipad of what was in compliance and what was not.
“I can tell you what I have been told and that is that a variety of different things were not in compliance and they may range from things such as the helipad not being large enough, it could be the surrounding landing area has impediments, such as overgrown trees or new buildings that have been erected, it could be fencing, it could be gating, it could be lighting. So it’s a number of things and they’re all different things at all of the heliports,” Rougeau said.
She was unable to give specifics on issues with the Sundre heliport.