Concerns mounting that new Campbell River Hospital helipad will be unusable

Concerns are mounting that the helicopter landing pad at the new Campbell River Hospital is going to be “useless.”

The issue was brought to light by Campbell River City Council after it surfaced that the helipad will likely only be able to achieve an H1 rating – the lowest designation given out by Transport Canada for a helipad – despite the North Island Hospitals project contract stipulating that both new hospitals in Campbell River and the Comox Valley would have H2 helipads.

Coun. Larry Samson said Island Health and the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board, which provided a percentage of funding for both hospitals, are still waiting on certification from Transport Canada but the board is being led to believe that the helipad will not be an H2.

“The concerns with the helipad at the new hospital are real,” said Samson, who sits on the hospital board. “It’s just to me an unworkable helipad.”

Sean Smyth, a member of the Airport Commission which in November, 2015 was tasked by the city with looking into the helipad, agreed that there are major problems surrounding the helipad, or heliport.

“Essentially what we found, because of the design of the building, it’s only going to be an H1 heliport. Because of that design, essentially it’s going to be next to useless because of where it’s placed on the roof,” Smyth said. “Because the rooftop is right before the heliport, it can never be upgraded beyond an H1.”

Smyth, a pilot himself, said that the commission, in studying the heliport, hired a consultant – Mobius – to look into the heliport and, in addition, received documentation from Transport Canada.

The commission also surveyed nine helicopter companies who use the Campbell River helipad to fly patients from remote areas to the hospital for medical care. The survey found that some of the companies can fly onto H2 helipads but most actually require an H3 landing pad – the highest, safest designation given out by Transport Canada.

In fact, Smyth said, “a survey of all commercial helicopter companies in B.C. revealed that just 1.6 per cent can do an H1.

“So that’s essentially nothing,” Smyth said. “This is the smallest rooftop helipad in Canada, it’s only rival is Surrey Memorial, which is the same size and that’s a problem because a lot of helicopters that are H1 capable, out of that 1.6 per cent, have a minimum pad size they’re allowed to land on, so even less than 1.6 per cent.”

Which is a shame, said Coun. Michele Babchuk who also sits on the hospital board.

“The thought process that has gone into those hospitals – even in maneuvering patients, with privacy, and there has been full consultation with the public of all these communities – it will really be a shame and a waste if we’re not able to use those pads,” Babchuk said. “It’s a real shame when you see the level of technology going into those hospitals that we are virtually looking at the point where we might not be able to use that.”

Island Health, for its part, issued a statement regarding the helipad stating that it’s still waiting on Transport Canada for certification and that the certification is based on a heliport’s regulations, guidelines and safety standards.

“Heliport certification is a multi-stage process and it will be several months before this process is complete,” reads the statement. “We anticipate the new Campbell River campus and Comox Valley campus heliports will receive certification from Transport Canada once the North Island Hospital is complete. Island Health will comply with all of the Transport Canada requirements related to the operation of the heliports at the new hospital campuses.”

Transport Canada classifies an H1 helipad as the highest risk heliport you can build. It’s designed for a twin engine that can fly away on one engine. And in order to land, the helicopter has to be light, flying within wind, and the conditions have to be very favourable, including that it can’t be too hot outside.

“Essentially, the H1 is incredibly restricting. If it stays at H1, Campbell River will be significantly less serviced,” Smyth said.

Coun. Samson said that if it does remain an H1 it will be a breach of contract.

In a June, 2015 report, titled North Island Hospital Projects Heliport Design, it states: “The Project Agreement currently states that the heliports at both Campbell River Hospital and Comox Valley Hospital will be non-instrument H2 classification.”

But later in the same report, Island Health explains that it won’t be able to fulfill that.

“Currently a variance from the Project Agreement has been requested to waive the H2 heliport classification for Campbell River Hospital. As identified in the regulation there must be reachable emergency landing areas in relation to the altitude of the helicopter and its performance. With the constrained layout of the hospital site, Transport Canada (Civil Aviation Inspector) has advised that there are not suitable emergency landing areas – specifically, one located immediately adjacent to the helipad. Therefore the helipad would not be certified with an H2 classification.”

So far, the Regional Hospital Board has not granted the variance requested by Island Health.

“No variance yet from the Regional Hospital Board and part of the reasoning is that while Transport Canada is going through the certification process now, they haven’t come out to finalize what the certification will be,” Samson said, but added that, “all indications are that it will be an H1.”

Samson said he believes that the board will hear back from Transport Canada on certification in August.

In the meantime, the hospital board is doing all it can to try and get more information on the helipad.

The board, at its last meeting, agreed to spend $2,760 – an estimated fee determined by Island Health – on a Freedom of Information Request to Island Health asking for all emails, reports and correspondence between the North Island Hospitals Project team, MMM Group Limited and Transport Canada between August of 2013 and the present regarding the helipads at both the Campbell River and Comox Valley hospitals. The hospital board is scheduled to meet again in September at the Maritime Heritage Centre.

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There is concern that helicopters, such as those flown for BC Ambulance, will not be able to land on the heliport at the new Campbell River Hospital.

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