Shooting for the STARS with top-notch training

Western Canadian pilots to be among first to train for Airbus H145 on new flight simulator

When a new STARS fleet takes to the skies in mid-2022, its life-saving missions will be in very good hands.

That’s because the non-profit’s pilots anticipate being among the first to train for the Airbus H145 helicopter on a new Texas-based flight simulator this fall.

“Having experienced pilots well-versed on the Airbus H145 helicopters ensures STARS can be there when people need critical care,” says Tyler Wiebe, donor relations and development officer for Western Canada-based STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) Foundation.

The H145 simulator in Grand Prairie, Texas, will be the first to be approved by Transport Canada outside of the current AH145 simulator in Donauwörth, Germany, the location of Airbus Helicopters’ production facility. The timing of its launch couldn’t be better.

“We have an aggressive schedule of pilots who need to be trained on the new aircraft,” Wiebe says. “With COVID-19, it’s been difficult to travel to Germany; now our pilots can be fully trained closer to home.”

STARS has received five of nine new H145 helicopters; the final four are scheduled to arrive before the end of 2021. Wiebe notes the remaining fleet is expected to be fully implemented by mid-2022, after which time STARS’s current fleet of aircraft will be retired.

In 2019 and 2020, the non-profit flew nearly 3,000 missions each year from its six bases in Western Canada, safely delivering patients of vehicle collisions, medical emergencies including COVID-19, and traumatic events to hospitals in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Since it was established in 1985, STARS has flown more than 45,000 missions. Its flight crews include a transport physician, critical care nurse and advanced care paramedic, who begin administering medical care to patients immediately, so they arrive at the hospital primed for further care.

As a not-for-profit organization, STARS relies on donations and grants for its operations. It began fundraising for the nine new H145s in 2018, receiving support from all levels of government as well as individual and corporate donors.

A longtime STARS supporter, Enbridge has contributed more than $1.3 million since 1993 to support the organization’s vital work in communities. In 2020, Enbridge provided a $30,000 grant to help cover costs to train pilots to use the new H145s.

The helicopter manufacturer Airbus also recognized the importance of STARS’s role in emergency medical care; the company chose to adorn the Texas simulator with a large photograph of a bright red H145 aircraft branded with the STARS logo.

“To see our helicopter on the side of the new simulator demonstrates that STARS is well respected around the world, not just here in Western Canada,” Wiebe says.

The organization’s mission is what resonates so strongly, Wiebe adds. “The people we help are those who are in the worst possible situations. They’re the most critically ill, the most critically injured.”

The new fleet of H145s is expected to streamline operations and save costs, allowing STARS to devote more resources to safely transporting patients and saving lives.

“Without having this rapid transport service, many people wouldn’t be here today,” Wiebe explains.