Phoenix Heli-Flight to support emergency services efforts
January 10, 2013 By Fort McMurray Today
Jan. 10, 2013, Fort McMurray, Alta. - Beginning in April, Phoenix Heli-Flight has announced the purchase of a 24/7 dedicated emergency response helicopter to help serve the overnight emergency medical needs of Wood Buffalo residents.
For the past 21 years, the entire time the business has been in Fort
McMurray, Phoenix has worked with the Fort McMurray Fire Department to
provide on-demand helicopters to transport sick and injured residents.
The helicopters, however, have been limited to daylight hours and can be
delayed if they are already in use on other jobs. Saying someone needed
to make the first move, Paul Spring, president of the helicopter
company, promises the new dedicated service will be ready, on standby,
around the clock.
“The local (emergency) doctors and our company have been trying to
get this project off the ground through Alberta Health for about eight
or 10 years,” said Spring, president of the helicopter company. “We
could never get a buy in from Alberta Health or any of the local
industry players at the time. The project’s always been on the
back-burner, but no one’s ever stepped up to fund it.”
Recognizing the need for dedicated emergency helicopter services will
only continue to increase in the future, Spring and Phoenix decided to
foot the initial $6.5 million bill to purchase and upgrade the chopper
and crew, saying it’s worth it to add the Eurocopter EC135 to the fleet.
Though rumours of the addition of the Eurocopter began circulating as
early as last September, the announcement became official Jan. 3.
Spring says the delay was due to the cost of the aircraft and its
“A machine that does night work has to be specially equipped, which
makes it very expensive,” said Spring. “The helicopter has to be
equipped for duel pilot IFR operations — that’s short for instrument
flight rules — and these are regulations set out by Transport Canada for
safe operations in Canada.”
Along with the two pilots, each with their own set of controls,
helicopters equipped for nighttime operations also need two engines and
“Helicopters are inherently unstable, so if you let go of the
controls, they just fall in one direction or another. They don’t sit,”
explained Spring. “Airplanes are inherently stable. If you let go of the
controls, they keep flying. They keep doing what they’re doing.”
To stabilize a helicopter, an auto-pilot system must be installed,
which typically costs close to $1 million. The Eurocopter and its crew
will also be outfitted with enhanced vision, night vision goggles; the
appropriate search lights, which Spring says are already on most Phoenix
machines; and forward-looking infrared, heat signature recognition to
help assist with search and rescue flights.
Spring says the project will take approximately $2.8 million to run
annually and will require ongoing funding from its many users.
“Industry is really driving this initiative. We hear from all the
different industry sectors individually, so all the producers in the
region have talked to us, but no one’s co-ordinating their
conversations. One company will say they need this, and another will say
they need this, but they don’t talk to each other,” explained Spring.
“So we stepped up. To really get the conversation going, we need an
aircraft and we need to be able to provide a service. It’s hard to
charge people money if you don’t have the service.”
Spring says the players will be put into one user group where they
can all fund the aircraft. Now that the ball is rolling, Spring says
Alberta Health has indicated a renewed interest in the initiative. A
meeting has been organized next week between Phoenix, industry and
several government players, which could see additional funding coming in
through Alberta Health.