Angel Flight East Kootenay’s flight numbers saw an increase between 2021 and 2022, and charity founder Brent Bidston attributes the bump to the reliability and capacity of their new plane, the Cessna 414A.
According to a release from the air shuttle service, which flies people from the East Kootenays to Kelowna for advanced medical care, so far in 2022 (as of Oct. 24) they have flown 426 people in a total of 221 flights.
In 2021, they flew 110 people in 148 flights, showing an increase of 316 people shuttled and 73 flights done in 2022.
In 2020 they flew 95 people in 134 flights, and in 2019, 15 people in 28 flights.
Since 2019, to date, they have flown a total of 646 people in 532 flights.
“The figures… speak for themselves and combined with the new policy of operating the 414A on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday every week has allowed patients to plan their appointments with much less worry about the flights being cancelled due to weather,” the release says.
Angel Flight’s new plane came online in December 2021, and was largely funded by the Regional District of East Kootenay ($500,000 over five years).
The release calls the plane a ‘game changer.’ It is twin engined, pressurized and capable of flying in icing conditions, plus it is easier to access. Bidston said their previous plane, a Cessna 182, is single engine and can’t fly in ice.
“We haven’t cancelled a single flight due to weather (since using the Cessna 414A), which was of course our biggest problem previously,” he said.
“So that made a huge difference.”
Speaking to the progress of Angel Flight since its inception, Bidston said ‘it’s been astounding.’
“We never expected the response we’ve had, the support has been incredible. And the number of patients, I mean nobody could tell me how many people had to go to Kelowna. And we had no idea that so many people had to go to Kelowna.”
Looking to the future of the charity, he said he thinks Angel Flight is where it wants to be.
“Now we’ve got the right aircraft the right formula, and we really just want to keep going the way we are,” Bidston said.
“It’s working well, the costs are under control, just about. And we just want to be able to keep going.”
He said he has no ambitions for a bigger and better plane, and that the main challenges moving forward will be finding volunteer pilots (due to the necessary 414A pilot qualifications), as well as getting an administrator to pick up office work.
“This incredible increase this year did kind of catch us by surprise, and it’s great,” Bidston said.
“It’s wonderful and very rewarding work. We love doing it.”
The release concludes by recognizing the partners who make Angel Flight’s work possible, including the RDEK for providing funding towards the plane’s purchase, as well as Cindi and Duncan with Bid Air at the Cranbrook Airport and the Shell Aerocentre at Kelowna airport for hosting the flights.