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New planes for MedStar

Wed., April 22, 2009

Northwest MedStar is spending $13 million on three new airplanes to transport patients.

The new aircraft are Pilatus PC-12/47E, single-engine, turbo-propeller-driven airplanes that are expected to be delivered later this year.

MedStar director Eveline Bisson said the new planes will be more fuel efficient than the twin-engine airplanes to be replaced, and have more room for larger patients, better loading access and a safety record that matches up with planes with two engines.

State officials waived the twin-engine requirement in 2008, acknowledging new standards that show airplanes with one engine are just as safe as those with two engines.

Michael Lopez, the EMS and trauma systems section supervisor for the Washington state Department of Health, said the rules about how many engines airplane ambulances must have are undergoing review and will likely be changed to adopt the new standards of the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems.

Bisson said newer and more reliable engines have made the historical safety argument that two engines are better than one moot.

MedStar covers a broad swath of country including Western Montana, North Idaho, Eastern Washington and parts of Oregon and Canada.

It is operated by Inland Northwest Health Services, a local nonprofit organization owned by Spokane’s two large hospital systems, Providence Health & Services and Community Health Systems Inc.

A Pilatus PC-12 airplane crashed in Butte, Mont., last month, killing all 14 people aboard: the pilot, six other adults and seven children under the age of 10.

Federal aviation crash experts are still investigating the accident. The passengers and pilot were flying to Montana on a ski vacation.

John Stucke can be reached at (509) 459-5419 or

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