Fixed-wing air ambulances will land at fewer rural airports across Alberta this winter due to safety concerns, but some are concerned that the move will endanger lives. Winter air ambulance operations have been halted in Spirit River, Two Hills, and Ponoka, primarily because the King Air aircraft can only land on shorter runways in ideal conditions, according to an Alberta Health Services spokesperson.
The safety of the Air Ambulance Crew is a Concern
“The safety of patients, staff, pilots, contract partners, and our aircraft fleet is one of Alberta Health Services’ and AHS EMS’ top priorities,” the statement said.
“Once aviation-related safety risks are identified as high and necessitating action, we are obligated to support the safety recommendations advanced by aviation subject matter experts; our pilots, and aviation providers.”
According to AHS, until March 31, the Town of Spirit River will only have ground ambulances and STARS helicopters responding to emergencies.
There Will Be No Compromise in the Care
Patients will still receive “high-quality, appropriate care,” according to the statement, and other arrangements will be made for patients who would usually be flown by plane. This could include being transported by ground ambulance to another airport first, followed by a response by STARS air ambulance for urgent or critical cases.
Spirit River Mayor Tammy Yaremko stated that her community has taken proactive steps to improve its airport, such as upgrading runway lighting and installing an all-weather operating system.
“There was just zero communication, and [fixed-wing service] was just pulled out from under us at the eleventh hour,” Yaremko said last week in an interview. “The King Airs have been landing here since the 1980s. So nothing has changed.”
She stated that the availability of fixed-wing air ambulances has benefited residents in the town about 525 km northwest of Edmonton and residents in neighboring municipalities.