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Toronto Island Airport: Medevac Air Ambulance
09/02/2006

I apologize to readers not interested in all this Toronto Island Airport stuff. Even I'm a bit bored by it, and recognize that it's not the world's biggest issue. But there are some arguments in favour of the airport that I haven't addressed yet, and feel I should respond to them before leaving this file alone for a while.

One argument that gets raised in talking about the island airport is the fact that it is the base for central southern Ontario's air ambulance helicopters. This sounds important, but as far as I can tell it is not nearly as important as it sounds. Consider this excerpt from a Community Air backgrounder (link PDF):

Medevac was only moved to the Island Airport to take advantage of cheap rents, enabled by the heavy taxpayer subsidies that support the airport. There are more strategic locations for the medevac base that would reduce pickup times for critically injured or ill patients, and the helicopter ambulance service should be moved to one of these locations.

The Island Airport sits at the far south end of a very large Medevac region that covers southern Ontario, extending as far north as Sudbury. Medevac helicopters must fly all the way from the Island Airport in downtown Toronto to fetch patients from anywhere in the region.

The majority of air ambulance patients are picked up well outside Toronto and are flown directly to a waiting hospital, never seeing the Island Airport which is not used to receive time critical Code 3 (urgent) or Code 4 (very urgent or life threatened) Medevac patients. Medevac operations at the Island Airport are first and foremost a base for refuelling, training and maintaining helicopters. And the fixed wing operators that used to be at the airport have mostly relocated to more appropriate bases, not subject to the Island Airportís fog, access and short runway issues.

Relocating the base for this vast regionís helicopter emergency Medevac services closer to the pickup points for the majority of critically ill and injured patients in the southern Ontario region will improve patient outcomes. Keeping the helicopter ambulance base at the Island Airport puts patientsí lives at risk.

As I understand it, Medevac flights go from their base to the scene of an emergency, and take patients from there to the appropriate hospital. What matters, then, is the distance from the airbase to the scene of accidents or emergencies that require helicopter service. Community Air -- which admittedly is an anti-airport group -- conducted a study based on actual Medevac data and determined that the island airport is the worst among 6 alternative locations (link PDF):

Based on the 2001 to 2003 statistics, maintaining the Medevac base of operations at the Toronto Island Airport results in the greatest Total Miles Flown...

Holland Landing and Barrie-Orillia are the 2 best locations, followed closely by Pickering and Buttonville. Of the 3144 emergency Medevac flights flown between 2001 and 2003, 2287 of them (72%) were closer to Buttonville than to the island airport.

The difference between the Total Miles Flown from the Island Airport and Barrie-Orillia LSRA or Holland Landing is between 22,000 and 25,000 nautical miles. To put this into perspective, this is equal to flying around the world.

Of course, nothing here forms an argument for closing the Toronto Island Airport. However, I don't see how the Medevac base can be used as an argument for keeping the island airport open (much less expanding it) when it seems that almost any other airport would be better for health emergency service.


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