LifeFlight looks to the future in North West Queensland

LifeFlight Australia’s most advanced helicopter landed on the Mount Isa Hospital helipad for the first time, earlier this week.

The LifeFlight Special Mission helicopter crew made the textbook-perfect landing as part of a reconnaissance and test of North-West facilities and infrastructure, to confirm suitability for meeting the needs of AW139 aircraft, which are larger and heavier than the BK117 machine, currently based in the region.

LifeFlight Commercial Chief Pilot Paul Forcier confirmed the hospital is ready and well equipped in the event an AW139 is permanently located in Mount Isa.

“The Helicopter Landing Site was funded by the Queensland Government and was completed in 2018, so there was little doubt that it is of a standard to host the larger aircraft, but of course in aviation everything must be checked and re-checked. Real-life tests are vital,” he said.

The LifeFlight Special Mission helicopter is in the region, bolstering aeromedical and Search and Rescue resources. The crew has already performed a number of long-range missions, as the major flooding emergency continues to unfold.

Anticipating the requirement, Queensland Ambulance Service and Retrieval Services Queensland strategically prepositioned the additional LifeFlight chopper in the region on Saturday (11th of March), to support the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue team permanently based in Mount Isa, who have also been responding to RSQ-tasked flood missions.

“While our local RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter crew regularly perform missions to and from this hospital landing site, this flood deployment was the perfect opportunity for us to undertake an AW139 test,” said Paul Forcier.

Dozens of LifeFlight stakeholders and supporters, including Mount Isa Mayor Danielle Slade, members of the LifeFlight Regional Advisory Committee (RAC), Queensland Health staff and emergency service personnel were at the hospital to mark the milestone moment.

“It is great to have LifeFlight here, working hard to safeguard the people in this region and doing so with this state-of-the-art chopper,” said LifeFlight North West Queensland RAC Chair Hon. Tony McGrady AM.

“Sometimes people say bush communities get left out, but when you see the Queensland Government investing in delivering LifeFlight services here you realise this is an organisation committed to serving regional areas.”

LifeFlight Australia is currently working closely with the Queensland Government and Queensland Health to assess LifeFlight’s service requirements and the future needs of the state’s world class aeromedical network. For LifeFlight that involves moving to a ‘single fleet mode’, by upgrading the remaining BK117 and Bell 412 helicopters to AW139 aircrafts; so all LifeFlight’s regional bases, including Mount Isa, would be serviced by an AW139.

The AW139 helicopter represents the very best in technology, safety and supportability and a fleet consisting of a single type of aircraft represents significant advantages to both Queensland Health and LifeFlight with respect to availability and reliability.

The AW139 helicopter is the premier standard for aeromedical and Search and Rescue missions around the world.

Its significant range and payload capacity lends itself to the long-range flights required throughout the North West region.

“While the current BK117 rescue helicopter serves the community well and has helped save so many lives, the demand and growth in this region means it’s time to upgrade,” said Hon. Tony McGrady AM.

In 2022, the Mount Isa-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter crews came to the aid of a record number of people, with crews tasked to assist 78 people, in critical missions, compared to 64 in 2021.

LifeFlight Australia (and previously NQ Rescue) has been investing in North West Queensland for more than 15 years, delivering critical aeromedical care and Search and Rescue capabilities across the region.

That commitment is continuing well into the future.

The Queensland Government, under the Queensland Resource Communities Infrastructure Fund, recently announced $3.9 million in funding to finance the building of a co-located aeromedical hub between Royal Flying Doctor Service and LifeFlight, at Mount Isa Airport.

The hangar itself will be large enough and appropriately fitted out, to house the AW139 helicopter, as LifeFlight continues discussions about upgrading the Mount Isa aircraft.