A helicopter firm in Parksville has landed a major contract to help upgrade and operate BC’s air ambulance fleet.
Ascent Helicopters was awarded the $554.4 million contract to supply new aircraft to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) to deliver helicopter emergency medical services.
“It has been a long process and for sure, we’re quite excited about it,” said Trent Lemke, owner of Ascent Helicopters, which have been operating in the Parksville area for 17 years. “It’s a good positive for the area, the community and the province.”
The Vancouver Island company will be purchasing seven brand new helicopters for the British Columbia-based agency. They will be equipped with improved technology and equipment for operational efficiency.
One rotorcraft will be based here on Central Vancouver Island, in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, while the other six will be located elsewhere in the province in Prince George, Prince Rupert, Kamloops and Vancouver. The new Leonardo AW169 helicopters are expected to be in service in the fall of 2024.
While the huge contract will bring long-term stabilization to the medium-sized helicopter company, what is crucial for Lemke is the ability to provide safe and efficient air transport of patients to hospitals around the province.
“It’s what it brings to all the communities and to the province and to patient care,” said Lemke. “That part is significant. They’ve been very focused on trying to deliver a good, long-term solution. And I think they’ve done that. And for the Parksville community you will have two full-time critical care teams and a helicopter based in the area for Parksville. It’s the first time that they will have been able to get patients from the Central Island to a major trauma facility in under an hour. That’s life-saving for the communities here.”
Ascent Helicopters is currently providing air ambulance service on Vancouver Island and in some parts of the Lower Mainland if required. Lemke said they have been extremely busy in the last couple of years, particularly during the pandemic.
“It was busier than I think was anticipated,” said Lemke. “The aircraft is out every day on calls. There’s barely a day it doesn’t fly. There’s no question in my mind that we have saved lives because of the quick response time. We’ve had some pretty serious trauma situations close to our community where we’re getting there six to seven minutes with the critical care team. And we’re getting them to Vancouver or down to Victoria in under an hour, which is life-saving. If you can get those patients to those trauma facilities in that kind of period of time it’s a game changer.”
Ascent Helicopters used to be stationed at Qualicum Beach Airport but Lemke said he moved out of there due to noise complaints. They now operate at Industrial Park on Springhill Road in Parksville.
“It’s actually kind of sad,” said Lemke. “Everybody appreciates the service but trying to find locations to work out of is difficult. Everybody likes to be saved by a helicopter but no one wants to be near a helicopter in our community.”
Lemke said they will be looking for a location to build the facility for the new ambulance aircraft here on Vancouver Island.
“Whether that’s going to be here in the Parksville community or if we have to go further down the road, we’re not entirely sure yet,” said Lemke. “But we’re just trying to see where we’ll be most welcomed and where we can operate out of.”