Chopper pilots grounded

The familiar Snowy Hydro Southcare chopper will change to a Toll-branded aircraft next month.

A new era will dawn for the rescue helicopter service that has operated out of Canberra for nearly 20 years when Toll takes over the state government contract to conduct the operation from current operator CHC.

It will mean a brand new helicopter and new pilots. As part of the changeover, only two of the existing four chopper pilots that have been operating the Southcare helicopter will continue.

Tumut ambulance station manager John Larter has been lobbying for the existing Soutchare pilots to continue with Toll, but hasn’t had much luck with government authorities.

He said the two pilots who will not continue are both experienced and highly capable.

“I can’t think of a good reason why they would not continue to be part of the team,” Mr Larter said.

“These people have worked the majority of their flying careers serving NSW Health and have been with the Southcare service virtually since it started.

“Their experience and professionalism shouldn’t be so easily disregarded. My understanding is they weren’t even interviewed for the role.”

Toll was in 2014 awarded a 10-year contract to operate aeromedical services throughout southern NSW and the ACT, from bases in Sydney, Wollongong, Orange and Canberra.

In a statement to the Times, Toll said it had recruited a full team of highly experienced pilots.

“Toll Helicopters have 38 operational pilots supporting the southern zone contract with recruits transitioning from a range of backgrounds including the Toll Heliocopters Soloman Islands contract, the incumbent operation and further highly trained and experienced pilots,” the statement read.

A new purpose built AW139 helicopter will be operated by Toll from April 2.

Each aircraft will have a greater range and include night vision technology and a larger working space for the medical crew in the rear of the aircraft.

NSW Health has previously stated it would hold discussions with staff about engaging present pilots, with a view to providing continuity between the aircrew, medical crews and the local area of operations knowledge.

Mr Larter said the Southcare crew was about to be broken up.

“These people know the area and know the local emergency services personnel, who they’ve developed relationships with” Mr Larter said.

“On many occasions their role goes well beyond just flying the aircraft – they assist us on the ground, sometimes in life-saving situations. ”

“I just can’t see any reason why a company wouldn’t want to use that experience and it’s communities like ours that lose out.”