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Letter: Reprivatization of air ambulance program long over due

Ornge costing taxpayers in excess of $170M per year

I do not feel qualified to put forth an opinion on scrapping the LHIN's or Cancer Care Ontario, but having worked in the aviation industry for 42 years and more specifically in helicopters, I feel very qualified to comment on the potential privatization of the Ornge air Ambulance operations.

First off, let’s go back to 1977 when the Ontario Air Ambulance program began operations out of the Buttonville airport, with a Bell 212 helicopter owned and operated by Toronto Helicopters under contract to the Province of Ontario. 

In 1980 a second Bell 212 was added to the program and based in Sudbury. Fixed wing air ambulance operations commenced in 1978 with a Cessna Citation jet based out of Timmins which was owned and operated by Austin Airways. Over the next 28 years the number of private sector aircraft and the communities served continued to expand.    

During this time the Ontario air ambulance program was operated in a cost effective and efficient manner by way of contracts for service, using private sector aviation companies. With a history of safe cost-effective flight operations and mission completion rates in the 96-per-cent range, the Ontario air ambulance program was well respect across Canada and the world. 

Then in 2005 the McGuinty government decided to fix, what was not broken, and created the air ambulance fiasco we all now know as Ornge. 

Out of the blue the not for profit corporation called Ornge came on the scene and began by managing the air ambulance contracts, and then eventually after a few years it took over the contracts from the commercial operators, and then became an aircraft operator themselves thus fully displacing the previous private sector operators. 

So now we have a not for profit corporation with 100-per-cent control over the running of the dispatch, helicopter and fixed wing aircraft operations and paramedics.

The cost per year of the contract for service prior to Ornge taking over was approximately $50 million; currently Ornge is costing the taxpayers of Ontario in excess of $170 million per year. 

The result of the creation of Ornge has been a litany of scandal, wasteful spending, reduction of service to communities, and out of control costs on the part of Ornge management.

But the most tragic result of the creation of Ornge is the loss of life that resulted from the crash of the helicopter based in Moosonee, killing both pilots and the 2 paramedics on board. 

This was the second crash of an air ambulance since Ornge took over from the private sector operators in 2005. Another helicopter crashed while landing in Temagami resulting in the total loss of the aircraft and very severe injuries to the 2 pilots and paramedics.

It should be noted that in the 28 years that the air ambulance program was provided by commercial private sector operators there was not a single accident resulting the loss of an aircraft or injury to patients or crews.

One can only imagine what the McGuinty government was thinking when they took  a world class air ambulance aviation program away from the highly experienced aviation professionals who had operated it safely and efficiently for 28 years, and give it carte blanche to an emergency room doctor who subsequently turned it into his personal cash cow acquiring everything from custom built motor cycles to high performance ski boats.

For the opposition parties to claim the privatization of the air ambulance would be a mistake, is partisanship at its finest, and contrary to any unbiased review of the facts or reality of what currently exists at Ornge, a bloated inefficient and overly expensive bureaucracy, that is delivering demonstrably less service and value than the private sector did previously.  

In my opinion, the reprivatization of the Ontario air ambulance program is long over due and should be accomplished as expeditiously as possible.

Dan Melanson
Trend Tec Canada