A local volunteer medical transportation service is making good use of a new aircraft that is capable of operating safely through inclement weather between the Kootenays and the Okanagan.
Through the worst of the winter months, Angel Flight East Kootenay has made 45 flights, the majority of which were with a new-to-the-organization 1979 Cessna 414A that was purchased last fall.
“Those 45 flights would not have gone if it wasn’t for the new aircraft because of the weather and this year, we have had no flights cancelled due to weather, again, because of this airplane,” said Brent Bidston, the founder and pilot with Angel Flight East Kootenay.
Indeed, last week was a busy one for Angel Flight, with six flights and 14 people transported between the East Kootenay and Kelowna, for specialist appointments or medical treatment, according to Bidston.
“We have just flown from December to now, through the worst part of winter and had no cancellations due to weather,” Bidston added. “…The airplane is doing what it said on the box and doing what we wanted it to do, successfully.”
Bidston noted there’s a notable increase in the number of people transported, due to the addition of new seats and expanded capacity provided by the new aircraft.
“The problem is that it’s made us much more reliable and we’re doing a lot more flights, but they’re more expensive. And with the massive increase in fuel costs…it’s really scary for us,” Bidston said.
Three pilots are qualified to fly the new aircraft and a fourth will be ready in a few weeks, Bidston said.
While Angel Flight East Kootenay doesn’t charge a direct fee for flights, the operational cost per person averages out to just over $100 per person on a full flight, according to Bidston.
The new aircraft was purchased following a significant grant of $500,000 from the Regional District of East Kootenay, to be spread out over five years, while additional support came from the Columbia Basin Trust, Teck Resources and private donations from individuals who wished to remain anonymous.
While that funding went towards purchasing the aircraft, there are still ongoing operational costs necessary to conduct the flights.
Bidston says Angel Flight East Kootenay is continually looking for donations to support the flights, particularly sponsorship that provides annual funding in order to better anticipate the organization’s finances
“At the moment, we never know one day to the next, what’s going to happen, so we’re trying to get a bit more stability into that,” Bidston said.
Anyone wishing to support Angel Flight East Kootenay can visit their website.