Ornge flies AW139s, S76s, PC12s across Ontario for medical transport

Going everywhere in Canada's most populous province, airborne med activity brings healthcare and saves lives.

Ornge Air Chief Operating Officer Rick Potter has directed a transition from subcontracted flight operations to aircraft owner and operated by Ornge.

Fixed Wing Flight Ops Dir Vic Charlebois describes a typical mission. The captain takes the call and, while he is being briefed on the mission particulars, the first officer is already headed for the airplane to complete a preflight inspection and get it ready to go. The captain checks the enroute and destination weather forecasts.

Almost all Ornge missions involve picking up a patient at one location and dropping him/her off at yet another, so the preflight process involves checking weather and Notams at both locations as well as conditions along the whole route.

Since the pilot has already been monitoring the Ontario weather since he arrived at work, the preflight weather check consists primarily of a confirmation of conditions. Once the pilot tells OCC the flight is a go, the clock begins ticking. Within 10 min of acceptance, the aircraft should be in contact with ATC and taxiing for takeoff.

In between, OCC has alerted the paramedics who will accompany the flight and described the particulars. The paramedics are Ornge employees with offices at the aircraft operating bases, so it's a simple matter for them to grab their equipment and board the aircraft. The procedure from a helicopter base would be essentially the same, Charlebois says.

Mission equipped

VP of Aviation Jim Feeley directs both fixed and rotary-wing operations for Ornge. Feeley helped select and spec out the Pilatus PC12s. "We ordered pretty much everything they had," he says.

All of Ornge's aircraft are modified extensively to conduct their transport medicine mission, and the PC12s and the AW139s are similarly equipped. Basic equipment in the PC12s includes a Lifeport system with a No 9 adaptor deck to transfer patients on a gurney into the aircraft. Medical equipment includes suction, oxygen, and 120-V A/C to power an LTV1200 ventilator. Two IVAC pumps permit 3-channel infusion to the patient.

Loose equipment includes a Life Pack 12 monitor/defibrillator, an airway bag and a basic medical bag stocked with trauma supplies, syringes and fluids. The aircraft can be reconfigured to accept a 2nd gurney in about an hour.

Ornge trains its own medical technicians, and maintains extensive facilities at its operating bases to train and keep medical personnel current on the latest medical procedures and techniques.

The Ornge flight operation as it exists today is a relatively recent development. Prior to 2009 Ornge contracted with outside contractors to provide aviation services. The decision to bring operations in-house was made to provide better control and accountability. The transition from having outside providers to running its own flight operation is still in progress.

VP of Aviation James Feeley says Ornge was granted an operating certificate for fixed-wing ops under Part 703 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (approximately equivalent to FAA Part 135 for nonscheduled operations) by Transport Canada in Apr 2009 and began flight ops in Aug 2009 using a fleet of Pilatus PC12s.

Dir of Fixed Wing Flight Ops Vic Charlebois is responsible for operation of the Ornge Pilatus PC12 fleet based at YQT, YTS and YXL. The PC12s are typically assigned to longer flights where their greater speed is an advantage.

Feeley says Ornge Flight Operations expects to receive its Part 704 helicopter certificate this winter. Until then, helicopter operations will continue to be provided through a subcontractor, Canadian Helicopters Ltd (CHL).

Under this arrangement, which has existed for several years, Ornge initially acquired a fleet of 11 Sikorsky S76As and then leased them to CHL. In 2008 Ornge elected to reconfigure its fleet and signed a contract with Agusta­Westland for 10 AW139s, which are larger and faster than the S76. The first 139 arrived in May 2010 and Ornge began a transition process.

From S76 to AW139

(L–R) Dir of Rotor Wing Ops Ainsley Boodoosingh, Asst Dir of Rotary Wing Ops Poul Archer and Rotary Wing Chief Pilot Kendal Beatty are overseeing the fleet transition from S76s to AW139s.

Ornge's contract with the Ontario provincial government stipulated that there could never be a time when service was not available—not even for an hour. To maintain continuity, a complex transition process was created that had S76 pilots train and qualify on the AW139 while continuing to fly the S76 in daily ops.

Then, one base at a time, Ornge began deactivating the S76 and inaugurating AW139 service. As of the end of Sep 2011, the bases at YOW, YSB and YXU were fully transitioned to the AW­139 while the other bases were continuing to operate the S76. Most of the other bases had begun AW­139 transition.

Operationally, Ornge is structured much like 2 separate flight departments, with Dir of Rotor Ops Ainsley Boodoosingh and Dir of Fixed-Wing Ops Charlebois reporting to Feeley.
Whichever side they are on, Ornge pilots share a similar routine.

They work a 12-hr day that can be extended to 14 hrs under special circumstances—but almost never is. They are scheduled 3 months in advance on a routine that puts them on for 6 days, off for 4, on for 4, off for 4 again and then repeating the cycle starting with another 6-day block. In effect, this works out to 480 hrs of scheduled duty time over a 3-month period, or the approximate equivalent of working 40 hrs a week for the same period.

Even though the aircraft can be flown single-pilot, the Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care contract with Ornge specifies that there be 2 crewmembers, both with a current pilot proficiency check. That's the approximate Canadian equivalent of 2 captain-qualified crewmembers with current instrument competence checks in the FAA system.

Charlebois notes a key difference between the Canadian regs and how FAA does business. In the States, if you blow the check ride, you can take some recurrent training and try it again. In Canada, if you flub the check ride you lose your license.

In addition to crew requirements, the Government of Ontario contract specifies minimum flight requirements for prospective pilots. To qualify for a job in the Ornge flight department you must have 2000 hrs TT and 500 hrs as PIC, along with the appropriate ratings to qualify in the PC12 or the AW139.


1 | 2| 3 next