The Whistler heliport is not closed. It still meets the requirements to land H1 helicopters, but as of midnight Nov. 22 the heliport was closed to H2 helicopters.
Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) did not meet Transport Canada's requirements for the H2 certification by the deadline.
H2 certification means more versatile aircraft can land at the heliport. VCH has determined that this level of certification is necessary to provide the best quality care to patients.
Acquiring the certification means large-scale tree removal between day lot 4 and Lorimer Road, as well as the lowering of streetlights in the surrounding area and a traffic management plan to stop the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic at Lorimer and Blackcomb Way when helicopters are landing.
Both streetlight lowering and the traffic management plan are also requirements for H1 certification and Anne Townley, acting manager of acute care services for Whistler Health Care Centre, said that VCH has hired an engineering firm to work with the Resort Municipality of Whistler to determine what this will look like. One possible option is a red traffic signal, similar to what is installed in front of the fire halls.
"We're looking at a plan with Whistler to use their parking staff," for the immediate short term, Townley said.
"We are really working with our partners to ensure the best patient care possible," she said.
The municipal heliport, located 10 minutes north of town, will now be used for patients coming off the mountains. Most emergency cases are flown to Vancouver General Hospital, but even without H2 certification, helicopter pilots can still land at the medical centre heliport in extreme circumstances if they feel that it's safe to do so.
In such a case, VCH may be subject to a fine issued by Transport Canada because the heliport is located on municipal land.
Townley said she hopes VCH will meet all of Transport Canada's H2 requirements by mid-December.
The modest tree removal around the heliport that is necessary for H1 certification will be underway by the time this issue hits newsstands. Council authorized this small-scale tree removal at its last meeting.
The upgrade costs are shared between VCH and Transport Canada, with VCH paying a majority of the costs.
On Tuesday, VCH and Transport Canada were at the site, flagging the trees that need removal.
Joe Paul, manager of development services for the RMOW, in his heliport update presentation to council last week, said that VCH must present to the RMOW a re-vegetation program before they're given the go-head for the large-scale tree removal necessary for H2 certification.
This has yet to be presented but Paul said VCH does have a landscape architect working on it.
"They're lighting a fire under themselves. They're working hard on it. I had them in the office this morning and they're working their arses off," Paul said on Tuesday.
"We see the traffic control evolving with a very short term, which might be the RCMP helping VCH, a sort of middle-term, which may be some VCH staff and I've heard that they're talking to Whistler Blackcomb about their staff, provided they're properly trained. And a longer term approach - and by that I mean getting installed this coming summer - which may actually be some signalization, which causes people to stop."