Building a new fleet of life-saving helicopters doesn’t happen overnight – just ask Scott Young.

“We like to say fleet renewal happens in decades, not months or years,” said Young, STARS captain pilot and vice president of fleet implementation. “We’ve been working for years to get to where we are in this fleet journey, and it will be several more years until we reach our destination.”

STARS’ fleet renewal plan is one of the most ambitious projects in our organization’s history. But it is also a necessary one.

“The current fleet is aging, and while our BK117 helicopters have served us well – flying tens of thousands of missions – they are no longer being built and are becoming costlier to maintain,” said STARS president and CEO Andrea Robertson.

Furthermore, independent assessments of the long-term sustainability of our fleet determined STARS needed to move from two aircraft types – the BK117s and the AW139s – to a new, single-platform fleet.

“A unified fleet is considered best practice and is the best choice for safety, operations and cost control,” said Robertson.

An extensive review by Young and a team of nurses, paramedics, pilots and engineers resulted in the selection of the Airbus H145 as the aircraft best suited to lead STARS into the future.

“The H145 is an updated version of our BK117 helicopters, with technological advancements similar to our existing AW139s,” said Young. “The medical interior is state-of-the-art, and, as with our current aircraft, it provides our air medical crews a flying intensive care unit in which to care for patients.”

As the first phase in executing the fleet renewal plan, STARS’ volunteer board of directors approved the acquisition of three new Airbus H145 helicopters earlier this year. These aircraft have been purchased by accessing cash reserves and financing, and they are currently being built and tested in Germany. They will be delivered in 2019, and the first aircraft will be based in Calgary.

Young is excited to see the project take shape but acknowledges much more work lies ahead. “It will take significant effort, preparation and training from all parts of the organization to see our first new helicopter fly a mission next year, and that will only be the first of nine new aircraft.”

The remainder of the new fleet is expected to be implemented across all six bases over the next five years. STARS is in the early stages of a capital campaign to seek support from the community and government partners to help purchase the new fleet, one helicopter at a time. The current aircraft will be sold after the new fleet is in place to help offset acquisition costs.

While Robertson is excited about this next chapter in the organization’s history, she emphasizes that STARS’ focus remains its patients. “At the end of the day, our helicopters – no matter the model – are an important vehicle to deliver life-saving care,” she said.

STARS has led the way in emergency medical care for more than 30 years, thanks to our generous allies. Your continued support will not only help us acquire a new fleet but also keep the existing aircraft in the sky.

“This new fleet is an investment in our future,” said Robertson. “With the community’s help, we will be there to fight for the lives of patients in need for generations to come.”

FLEET FACTS

  • Each medically equipped Airbus H145 costs approximately $13 million CAD.
  • Nine new aircraft are required to replace the fleet: five helicopters to operate STARS’ three Alberta bases; three to operate STARS’ two Saskatchewan bases; and one to operate STARS’ Winnipeg base.
  • STARS is the first user of this aircraft for helicopter EMS in Canada, but worldwide approximately 50 per cent of the users of the H145 are helicopter EMS, military and police agencies.
  • The transition to a new fleet will not impact STARS’ service. We will maintain a full complement of aircraft throughout the process, reliably and safely serving our communities around the clock to ensure we are there for the next patients who need us.

For more information, please visit: fightinflight.ca

Watch STARS president and CEO Andrea Robertson speak about STARS’ exciting future here.

Photo courtesy of Airbus/Christian D. Keller.