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There was good news for Canada’s western provinces and the helicopter industry in the Liberal government’s latest budget, tabled March 19 in the House of Commons. The federal government is funding the purchase of five medevac-equipped Airbus H145 helicopters for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS), based in Calgary, Alta.
“For people in . . . parts of Western Canada who are critically ill or injured and need emergency medical help, we are investing $65 million in new emergency ambulance helicopters for the region’s Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said toward the end of his budget speech.
STARS, which began operations in 1985, has been looking to acquire nine H145 helicopters to replace its aging fleet of eight Airbus BK-117s and three Leonardo AW139s.
Five of the air ambulance service’s new H145s will operate from its three Alberta bases, three will be located at its two Saskatchewan bases, and the final H145 will be based in Manitoba.
There are currently two H145s being assembled and completed at Airbus’s Fort Erie, Ont., facility for delivery to STARS this spring; the first two helicopters will replace STARS’ AW139s.
STARS services Canada’s three Prairie provinces as well as eastern and central British Columbia–including remote Indigenous communities and in the region’s mostly mountainous national parks where surface access is routinely difficult and frequently impossible. “When tragedy strikes, every second counts,” the budget document points out.
On background in the budget media lockup, a Finance Department official told Skies that the federal government had been involved in discussions with STARS management, who were aware that the funding through Public Safety Canada had to be locked in by March 31, the end of the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
The federal government said the $65 million is “a one-time investment.”
The Alberta government also announced in early March it is providing $13 million to STARS for the purchase of one H145 helicopter, which brings the total number of funded H145s to six. It is not yet known whether STARS will be purchasing Airbus’s new five-bladed H145 helicopter, or whether the air ambulance service will have a mixture of the current H145 and the new H145.
The federal government’s March 19 budget does not provide much relief to aspiring pilots on the cost of getting a commercial pilot’s licence.