AgustaWestland AW139 Ornge C-GYNF … active rescue in Ontario region, May 2017.
ORNGE looks to sell off high-priced helicopter fleet.
Ontario’s air ambulance service asks for industry advice to replace fleet of AgustaWestland helicopters bought in 2008 for $120 million.
The AW139 helicopters had a troubled entry into service with ORNGE when it was revealed that a poor cabin design made it difficult for paramedics to tend to patients, including performing CPR.
Feb 12 2015 – Bruce Campion-Smith / The Toronto Star
OTTAWA—ORNGE is looking at selling its fleet of AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters, which stand as a reminder of a troubled and costly legacy at the air ambulance agency.
ORNGE bought 12 of the helicopters in 2008 for $148 million U.S. — even though only nine were needed — and Dr. Chris Mazza, the head of the agency at the time, cheered their arrival two years later.
But elements of the deal raised questions and now ORNGE is having a tinge of buyer’s remorse over the decision to purchase the twin-engine helicopters.
“It burns a lot of fuel. It’s a big airplane. It is costly to maintain because of the complexity of the machine, more costly than say a simpler machine,” said Dr. Andrew McCallum, president and CEO of ORNGE.
McCallum stressed in an interview with the Star that no decisions have been made to sell off the fleet.
Instead, he said the agency wants to know whether there are cheaper alternatives. He said the AW139s are more suited to flying to offshore oil platforms and that few other agencies use them in an air ambulance role.
“We have, I think, a duty to see if this is the right aircraft in these circumstances for us,” McCallum said.
ORNGE issued a request for information Thursday seeking industry advice on possible replacements for the fleet of helicopters that serve as the backbone of its air fleet.
The fleet of helicopters moved 3,125 of the some 8,000 patients that ORNGE transported last year by air and land.
ORNGE originally bought a dozen AW139 helicopters from European manufacturer AgustaWestland, including two fitted with seats for 12 passengers, meaning they couldn’t be used as air ambulances. Those two aircraft were sold in 2013 for a total of $20 million.
The other helicopters had a troubled entry into service when it was revealed that a poor cabin design made it difficult for paramedics to tend to patients, including performing CPR.
After ORNGE took delivery of the helicopters, AgustaWestland agreed to donate $2.9 million (U.S.) to ORNGE’s charitable foundation. Of that, $500,000 was spent on two custom-made motorcycles.
A special report by the Ontario auditor general detailed another payment to ORNGE by AgustaWestland for $4.8 million for marketing and other services.
“It’s hard to know what was in their minds,” McCallum said of the complicated deal.
These latest move comes after an extensive review of ORNGE’s operations, including the location of its bases and to ensure it had the “most efficient and appropriate aircraft that we fly.”
McCallum said the agency wants to hear back from industry within 45 days. He said ORNGE would hope to finance the purchase of 10 or 11 aircraft out of the proceeds from selling the AW139 helicopters, which he said could fetch about $10 million apiece.
McCallum said there are no immediate plans to close or relocate any of its bases across the province.
ORNGE also operates a fleet of 10 Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop aircraft to transport patients over longer distances. Those were bought at the same time as the AW139 helicopters in a $42-million (U.S.) deal, even though the agency’s own analysis said only six airplanes were needed. Two of those aircraft are now up for sale.