Angel Flight East Kootenay is once again offering free flights to residents with medical appointments in Kelowna.
Brent Bidston, lead pilot and president of Angel Flight East Kootenay said that the organization was forced to ground flights due to the pandemic earlier this year.
“We closed down because of COVID-19 but in actual fact it didn’t have much effect because everybody had their appointments cancelled, so nobody was going anyways. Now that they are beginning to ease restrictions… people are beginning to get appointments again,” said Bidston.
On May 13, Interior Health announced that beginning May 19 elective surgeries that were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic will resume. Since many surgeries were cancelled or postponed, and travel between municipalities strongly discouraged, Angel Flight found themselves without clients early on in the pandemic.
Now, with the resumption of medical appointments and surgeries, they are happy to announce they are once again offering flights.
“We will basically be driven by what Interior Health does, now that they’ve started booking consultations and elective surgeries again, we’re able to operate,” Bidston said, adding that if a second wave of COVID-19 does change things in the fall, they will continue to operate as per Interior Health’s plans.
The charity will be following strict guidelines from Transport Canada and various medical professionals to ensure the safety of pilots and passengers. Bidston says that even though the Transport Canada guidelines are for commercial flights, the best way to move forward is to follow those regulations.
To begin with, there is a series of questions that potential clients must answer before qualifying for a flight.
“We ask them the obvious questions to hopefully rule out that they’ve got COVID-19 and then they have to wear a mask to walk through the airport and to get on to the airplane,” explained Bidston. “Obviously if someone has symptoms they won’t be able to fly.”
In order to be eligible for a flight with Angel Flight, clients must not present any symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. The clients must also not be under quarantine order because of recent travel.
Since the Cessna 182 used by Angel Flight is not a large plane, stringent disinfecting measures will be used and personal protective equipment will be required. Clients will put on their mask, sanitize their hands and keep the mask on for the duration of the flight. After having sanitized their hands, Bidston said “the idea is that if they do touch things, they shouldn’t leave anything behind.”
Already the charity has scheduled two flights for the end of the month and Bidston thinks that things will start to gently pick up from there as more appointments are rescheduled and more restrictions are lifted.
In the meantime, the charity, which relies heavily on donations, has seen a drastic drop in donated funds. According to Bidston, donations almost “stopped dead” once the pandemic hit. There have been some donations trickling in but nothing compared to the community support that they’ve seen pouring in since they launched last year.
“It’s not surprising that we’ve seen donations stop, especially because most of them came from people hosting fundraising events,” Bidston noted. “We’ve got a reasonable amount of funding left and hopefully things will ease so those types of fundraisers can be held again. In the meantime, we just want to get the word out that we’re open again. We don’t want people to feel as though they can’t make their appointment, we’ve got it covered.”
For those who are looking to either donate or book a flight with Angel Flight East Kootenay, you can visit their website at angelflightek.ca.