Ontario government increases Ornge fixed-wing fleet renewal to 12 aircraft

By Dayna Fedy-MacDonald | November 8, 2023

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 32 seconds.

In an effort to better connect patients in rural and remote areas to urgent care, the Government of Ontario announced on Nov. 7 that it has added another four Pilatus PC-12 aircraft to a previous order for eight of the type — first announced in December 2022 — for Ornge’s air ambulance service.

The total of 12 brand-new PC-12s, worth over $108 million, will replace Ornge’s current fleet of eight of the Pilatus-built aircraft, which have been operating since 2009.

An artist’s rendering of Ornge’s future Pilatus PC-12. Ontario Government Image

In addition to its current eight PC-12 NGs, the Toronto-based medical transport provider operates 12 Leonardo AW139 helicopters — for a total of 20 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft — as well as more than a dozen land ambulances. The planes are utilized for longer distance transports, while the helicopters are best suited for shorter distances and emergency on-scene response.

This latest order announcement for an additional four PC-12s, made by Health Minister Sylvia Jones during a news conference at Ornge’s Sudbury, Ont., base, will bring Ornge’s total aircraft fleet to 24.

According to the Swiss plane manufacturer, Pilatus, Ornge is expected to take delivery of its 12 new PC-12s between 2026 and 2030 — during which time its existing eight PC-12 NGs will be rotated out of service.

“We are very pleased that Ornge has elected to continue the excellent long-term partnership with Pilatus in this upgrade to its fleet,” said Thomas Bosshard, president and CEO of Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd. “We take great pride in being able to support the health care system of Ontario’s citizens.”

Once the new 12-plane fleet is ready, “Ornge will be able to add two fully staffed, 24/7 air ambulance crews to further connect people in the region in need of rapid emergency care,” the Ontario government said in a press release.  

“This is a transformative investment in Ontario’s air ambulance and critical care transport program,” noted Dr. Homer Tien, president and CEO of Ornge. “With a new 24/7 fixed-wing air ambulance crew based in Northeastern Ontario and additional aircraft added to our fleet, we will be able to bring high quality care in transport to more patients with enhanced reliability . . . particularly in Northern Ontario and among northern Indigenous communities.”

When the province initially announced Ornge’s fixed-wing fleet renewal plan last December, it noted that it was considering expanding the total aircraft fleet beyond 20, with “larger and faster aircraft.” While Ornge’s fleet is officially being expanded beyond 20 aircraft, the Ontario government did not reference adding other aircraft that are larger than the PC-12 or AW139 in its latest announcement.

Ornge air ambulance PC-12 interior
The interior of Ornge’s current PC-12 NG air ambulance. Rick Radell Photo

The Ontario government did, however, announce that in addition to its investment in Ornge’s fleet renewal, it is investing nearly $10 million to move the medical transport provider’s existing Sudbury base to “a larger hangar in the city that can house both their helicopter and expanded fixed-wing services in one base.”

Ornge’s other fixed-wing bases are currently located in Thunder Bay, Timmins, and Sioux Lookout. The new hangar in Sudbury is expected to help with better coordination of emergency care in Northern Ontario, where approximately 98 per cent of Ornge’s fixed-wing patient transports originate from.

“As part of this investment, we look forward to working closely with Ornge as they expand their service at their Sudbury base and are committed to finding a suitable hangar solution at the Greater Sudbury Airport (CYSB),” stated Giovanna Verrilli, CEO of CYSB.

Each year, Ornge performs roughly 21,000 patient-related transports — 17 per cent of which involve the fixed-wing fleet — covering a land area of over one million square kilometres.

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1 Comment

  1. My question is the same as when this aircraft ‘upgrade’ was originally announced; why are these aircraft being replaced at a cost of $108 million (and we all know it will end up being way more!) when they are relatively young (only 12-13 years old), low cycle (based on the numbers in the earlier article I estimate approx. 6,000 total FC/aircraft), and have presumably been performing the role acceptably. Can anyone provide some insight?

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