Angel Flight East Kootenay recently hit a milestone 600 flights at the end of January, including a return trip to the region with a completely full airplane.
It was also a significant day in that Angel Flight was able to fly five patients down to Kelowna, while returning to the Kootenays with six patients, according to founder and pilot Brent Bidston.
“We’ll never beat that,” said Bidston.
The milestone is notable given that the organization is able to fly on a more reliable schedule with the addition of a Cessna 414A aircraft that can operate through inclement weather
For context, the organization flew 115 patients in 2021, before the acquisition of the new aircraft.
With a new airplane in operation by the start of 2022, Angel Flight carried 570 patients to and from Kelowna and the Kootenays over the last 12 months.
“And there’s no sign of that decreasing as we’ve gone into the new year,” Bidston said.
Also, the organization has only had to cancel one flight since the addition of the new aircraft, something that was a regular occurrence with the previous airplane Angel Flight operated.
Bidston, a retired commercial airline pilot, founded the organization as a volunteer medical transport service in 2019, flying patients from the East Kootenays to specialist medical appointments in Kelowna.
Currently, Angel Flight is operating every week, flying patients Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, consolidating flights wherever possible to maximize patient transport and to save on fuel and other operating costs.
“The biggest challenge we’re facing, to be honest, is pilots,” said Bidston. “Because this aircraft requires quite high qualifications, the pool of pilots is much smaller. Now we do have three great guys who are actually active airline pilots who are going to try and fill in for us, but of course, their availability is dependent on their work.”
A retired commercial airline pilot, like Bidston himself, who lives within striking distance of Cranbrook and the Canadian Rockies International Airport, would an ideal candidate, he said.
Bidston is also looking to build out a bigger network to share the administrative burden.