Wings Magazine

Features Operations
At The Gate: Providing a little hope

In 1986, Joan Rogers and Jinnie Bradshaw were at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and saw cancer patients arriving from the Maritimes for treatment after having been on a bus for more than 16 hours.


July 10, 2012
By Brian Dunn

Topics

In 1986, Joan Rogers and Jinnie Bradshaw were at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and saw cancer patients arriving from the Maritimes for treatment after having been on a bus for more than 16 hours.

WestJet_Cake_Cutting  
The organization is becoming better known primarily through outreach efforts, health-care services and social services. Photo: Hope Air


 

Not exactly impressed, they decided there had to be a better way and formed Mission Air, renamed Hope Air in 1999. It’s the only national service of its kind. In the early years, most flights were donated through corporate aviation programs. The first flight was on November 8, 1986, and went to a young teenage boy with cancer who flew from New Brunswick to Toronto on a Royal Bank of Canada corporate plane.

Last year, Hope Air celebrated its 25th Anniversary and has provided low-income Canadians with more than 66,000 flights to get to specialized health care that was not available in their home communities. That number now exceeds 68,000 flights.

Advertisment

Passenger 66,000 was two-year-old James of Prince George, B.C. James was diagnosed with leukemia on Canada Day weekend and he and his mother, Stefanie, were flown by air ambulance to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. After his first round of treatment, James and his mom were ready to go home, but faced a nine-hour bus ride. Hope Air got them home with a free flight that took just one hour.

Hope Air relies on the generosity of its commercial airline partners to provide the bulk of the flights through its Commercial Airline Donation Program. Last year, the partners provided flights valued at close to $608,000. Without their support, many families would be forced to drive incredible distances through bad weather, while already sick and in discomfort, resulting in serious emotional and financial distress, according to C.K. DesGrosseilliers, Hope Air’s communications manager. Hope Air’s airline partners include WestJet, Bearskin Airlines, Central Mountain Air, Air Canada, Pacific Coastal Airlines, Air North, Hawkair and Harbour Air Seaplanes. Although the flights are donated, Hope Air often has to pay the taxes, airport improvement fees, security charges, surcharges and program costs related to client care.

A second program is the Volunteer Pilot Program, which partners with private pilots who use their aircraft to get people to their medical appointments. Even though Hope Air reimburses the volunteer pilots for a percentage of their fuel costs, the volunteer pilots make a large financial contribution as well. The cost of these flights consists of fees, fuel costs, operating costs and program costs.

The third option is the Flight Purchase Program. Because of limitations on its commercial airline partners’ ability to donate as many flights as needed, restrictions on the Volunteer Pilot Program due to the weather and other factors, Hope Air may purchase seats to get clients to medical care. Flight costs vary and Hope Air needs the financial support of individuals, corporations and foundations to fund ticket purchases.

Many clients are children or single parents with limited resources, while some are seniors on fixed incomes. If Hope Air didn’t exist, 21 per cent of clients would have no option but to take a car or bus ride of 12 hours or more each way, to reach the healthcare they need. About 28 per cent of clients claim they would cancel or indefinitely postpone their medical appointments without access to the free flights Hope Air provides.

Potential clients, or family members acting on their behalf, must book their medical appointment before applying for a flight online at hopeair.ca. Not every request can be met for a number of reasons, explains DesGrosseilliers.

“The airlines can only donate so many seats and they also have blackout periods and private pilots may not be available to fly or be restricted by weather. We’d like to do more with corporations, but there are fewer corporations that have their own aircraft these days.”

Last year, Hope Air had revenue of close to $3 million and expenditures of $2.6 million. In-kind donations, including free flights, accounted for 47 per cent of donations. The rest came from program grants, individuals, foundations, corporations, government and special events. Hope Air also flew a record 4,579 clients in 2011, a 25 per cent increase over 2010. DesGrosseilliers attributes the increase to a growing need for the service and says the organization is becoming better known primarily through outreach efforts, health-care services and social services.

Hope Air expanded its fundraising activities this year, with several events hosted by other organizations on its behalf. One was the St. John’s Southwest Gala Auction in March and the other was the GTAA Runway Run at Toronto’s Pearson International in June. The two events are expected to raise $100,000 each.


Brian Dunn is a Wings writer and columnist.