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.

Simulator training

Members of the Ornge team at YQT in front of the nonprofit organization's flight and maintenance hangar. Team members include flightcrews, mechanics, line personnel and emergency medical technicians.

Initial training on the AW139 is extensive and includes 24 hrs in AgustaWestland's Level D simulator at MMU (Morristown NJ). In addition, pilots have 6 hrs PIC time at their home base before taking a trip with passengers. Until they are completely phased out, S76 recurrent training is done on the Flight­Safety Intl Level C sim at PBI (Intl, West Palm Beach FL).

By contrast, after an initial introduction in the flight training device at SimCom Orlando FL, Ornge PC12 training is accomplished almost entirely on site using a training captain in the department's aircraft. An exception, notes Charlebois, is if there has been a change in the aircraft configuration.

This has happened 3 times since Ornge acquired the PC12s, each involving an upgrade to the Honeywell avionics suite's software. Each time, the Ornge crews returned to SimCom to master the new configuration.

The PC12 crews will get another trip to Orlando early next year when the aircraft are fitted with forward looking infrared (FLIR) systems to help detect animals, or sometimes people, on the runways at the many uncontrolled airfields Ornge aircraft use to access the small communities scattered along the shores of Hudson Bay.

Ornge's PC12 fleet is equipped with Honeywell Primus Epic avionics and full FMS. "When we spec'd them out," Feeley says, "we ordered them with as many of the tools as possible for the flightcrews."

Big airports and small

(L–R) YQT Dir of Ops Wade Durham with PC12 Capt Poul-Erik Binder­up and FO Patrick Rolls. Durham coordinates the interface between Ornge flight ops and the medical function, including scheduling and training EMTs and maintaining specialized equipment and supplies.

The pilots say they use all that capability routinely as they fly missions that could include a GPS approach into an uncontrolled field on Hudson Bay followed by a full radar vectored approach ending in an ILS to minimums at YYZ. The Ornge PC12s are not certified for RVSM because they don't need it in their remote operating environment.

Most of the northern runways Ornge uses are 3500 x 100-ft gravel surface facilities that typically are contaminated with snow and ice in the winter, which is a 6-month season in northern Canada.

The PC12 handles soft fields well, the pilots say, but advise, "Keep it moving and don't let it get bogged down." Normal minimum runway length for an Ornge operation is 2800 ft, although shorter can be approved on a case-by-case basis.

Ornge has just taken delivery of its 10th AgustaWestland AW139 and is integrating these aircraft into its system at the 9 rotary-wing bases it operates throughout Ontario.

The PC12 reportedly handles in­flight icing well, and the orange paint on the wings aids ice detection. "If you look out and see the orange wing isn't orange any more, you're getting ice," says PC12 Capt Brian Knapp.

The toughest operating weather in Ontario comes in the spring and fall, when both ice and thunderstorms are common. Most of the time in the winter months it gets too cold for inflight ice to form.

Maintaining the PC12s

All the PC12s are maintained at the Pilatus facility at YQT, which is the next building down the ramp from the Ornge hangar. That situation is about to change, however, as Ornge is expanding its maintenance capability for the PC12.

Sean Fillion was hired as director of tech ops–aviation. A native of Thunder Bay, Fillion was previously a technician, crew chief and maintenance manager during a 15-year stint at Bearskin Airlines, one of the major regional carriers serving Ontario and eastern Manitoba.

Ornge techs perform 150-hr and annual inspections on the PC12 fleet at YQT. (L–R) Dir of Technical Ops–Aviation Sean Fillion, and Aviation Maintenance Engineers Nick Spithoff, Dan Watsop and Bryan Rouillard. Heavier maintenance tasks are performed at the Pilatus Service Center at YQT, which is in the hangar next to Ornge.

Fillion says Ornge plans to handle 150-hr and annual inspections on the PC12 fleet, as well as tracking the engine condition trend (ECT) monitoring system for the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67 engines that power them.

Fillion's crew will also handle any minor unscheduled maintenance issues. He plans to have 3 technicians on the hangar floor at YQT plus another at each PC12 operating base. Major maintenance will still go back to the Pilatus shop.

Because they are so new, most maintenance on the AW139s beyond basic flightline service is handled by AgustaWestland.

With new equipment on both the rotary and fixed-wing sides, and a flight department with a safety-oriented culture committed to a humanitarian mission, the pilots say Ornge is a great place to work. Indeed, most of them say they expect to keep this job for the rest of their careers.

Mike Potts is an aviation consultant and freelance writer. He worked in corporate communications for Beech and Raytheon Aircraft between 1979 and 1997.


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