David Brown may not have known a lot about heliports when he was asked to develop his first some 15 years ago. But his design skills and aviation background made him a logical choice when the engineering company he worked for was asked to make Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre helicopter-accessible.
“It was just the right place and right time. Somebody made a phone call and it was something that I was interested in doing.”
Today, Brown’s resumé includes more than 100 heliport projects. An engineering technician and licensed pilot, he’s developed new facilities, upgraded old ones, prepared operations manuals and trained operators.
In May, he started GroundEffect Aerodrome Consulting Ltd. with Keith Walker — whose background includes structural design work and service as an officer with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. The company is based at Red Deer Airport, but serves clients across Western Canada and beyond.
“Red Deer is a good location because we are centrally located and can get around the country fairly easily from here,” said Brown.
Not only have his past projects been geographically diverse, they’ve varied considerably in level of difficulty.
“Like the side of a mountain in Trail, B.C.,” he said, describing how the project necessitated the use of retaining walls to create a flat landing area. “There are some real challenges with those kinds of things.”
In Brown’s hometown of Red Lake, Ont., he created a heliport for a hospital out a tree-covered dome of bedrock.
Other jobs have been much simpler.
“When you’re flat on the ground like Vulcan, or some of those spots, it’s pretty easy.”
Developing the physical structure for a heliport is only part of the task. Transport Canada regulations must also be addressed.
“It’s just like an airport, in a sense,” explained Brown. “We have to define flight paths and air space and protect zones and deal with obstructions and all those things.”
Other considerations, like ease of maintenance and the process through which patients will be moved from a hospital’s heliport to its care facilities, are also important, he said.
“It’s something your average Joe really doesn’t think too much of.”
New builds aren’t the only projects GroundEffect undertakes. Existing heliports sometimes require upgrades to accommodate bigger aircraft or satisfy new regulatory requirements.
Clients have included health authorities, municipalities, airport commissions, law enforcement agencies, helicopter companies and private pilots.
Brown believes he and Walker have completed more heliport projects than anyone else in Western Canada — an outcome he couldn’t have anticipated when he tackled that first job in Ponoka.
“It just started from there, and then I did another and another and another.”
Additional information about GroundEffect Aerodrome Consulting can be found on the company’s website at www.groundeffectac.ca.
— copyright Red Deer Advocate