Retired pilot trying to fund free flights for medical patients in BC Interior

May 27, 2019

Angel Air East Kootenay

Plan is to help patients travelling between the East Kootenays and city hospitals.

A new BC airline that plans to transport medical patients from the East Kootenays to appointments in Kelowna and Vancouver is looking for funding to get off the ground. Angel Flight East Kootenay is being founded by retired pilot Brent Bidston, who worked for BC Ambulance Service for 10 years. He told CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker there’s a big need in the region to move non-emergency patients to critical medical appointments such as cancer treatments.

Bidston said most emergency patients are airlifted by BC Emergency Health Services, and Angel Flight will not service patients who require emergency treatment while in the air. Bidston’s planes will accommodate a patient and a caregiver who otherwise could face a long car commute and big bills for accommodations in a city.

“You hear these horrendous stories of people that get stuck in very expensive situations they can’t afford,” said Bidston. Bidston said sometimes emergency patients who are airlifted to Vancouver or Kelowna are left in those cities without a way to get home, and Angel Flight could step in. He also wants to help immunocompromised patients who have to take commercial flights after their appointments.

“The last thing they want to do is sit in a commercial airliner with other people all breathing recirculated air,” said Bidston.

Bidston said the flights will prioritize cancer patients and children under the age of 15. He said the cost of transporting one patient and their caregiver from Cranbrook to Kelowna is approximately $700 round-trip. Prices will differ depending on departure and arrival locations.

The plan is to provide these flights for free, and the airline is currently registered as a non-profit and has applied for charity status. The airline has been promised funding “from a couple of sources” that Bidston said should arrive by the end of May. He hopes to start flying patients for free as early as next month, but he said more funding is essential to keep the service available.

(Source: Bridgette WatsonCBC News with files from CBC Daybreak South)

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