Plans to upgrade air ambulance service in northern Norway, including Svalbard, by replacing one of three propeller planes with a jet have been cancelled due to the cost of the aircraft, according to officials.
The propeller planes are smaller and slower, which proved problematic following the avalanche last Dec. 19 in Longyearbyen. All three were sent to the archipelago, but some health professionals and equipment had to be flown from the mainland using commercial airline service and an ambulance jet borrowed from Sweden due to lack of capacity.
The National Air Ambulance Services of Norway announced in May it intended to station one jet ambulance in Oslo and one in Tromsø beginning in 2019.
“Getting jets into the air ambulance service is a quantum leap that will improve emergency preparedness in Svalbard,” Øyvind Juell, the agency’s general manager, said at the time.
But in an announcement earlier this month only the Oslo jet was approved and the agency, in a press release, stated “the flying time for a jet to retrieve a patient in Svalbard and fly to Tromsø is as fast as today’s air ambulance can make it from Tromsø.” A final deal is expected to be signed next summer.
The decision – and seeming contrary rationale for it – was harshly criticized by emergency officials in Svalbard and Tromsø.
“It’s simply a black day for emergency preparedness in Northern Norway,” Mads Gilbert, chief physician at the emergency clinic at University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsø, told NRK. “They build up preparedness in the south and down in the north. A life in the north is not worth less than a life in the south.”
The Tromsø jet was rejected as too expensive after bids were submitted for the aircraft. But opposition to the proposal was also voiced by officials in Finnmark who said replacing a propeller plane with a jet would hurt rescue services since the latter cannot land at many airports in the region.
Svalbard Gov. Kjerstin Askholt told Svalbardposten no officials from the archipelago were involved in the decision-making process.
“I believe the matter should have been dealt with both in the emergency preparedness council in Longyearbyen and possibly the Interdepartmental Polar Commission,” she said. “It is regrettable that there has not been a proper process for what has happened in Longyearbyen during the past year. There are interests in Svalbard that must be heard on this issue before a final decision is made.”