John Colebourn The Province
Hope Rises: Charity Airline Gives Free Flights to Where the Doctors Are
November 28, 2012
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  • By John Colebourn

    A retired Air Canada pilot, Ilg, 60, is on-call for the national charity, which arranges free flights for people needing medical treatment.

    Many Hope Air flights are from rural areas, often taking sick children to B.C. Children’s Hospital for critical operations.

    Ilg, who lives in Richmond, owns a Cessna 177 Cardinal single-engine four-seater plane, and is co-owner of a Piper Seneca twin-engine six-seater.

    Since first volunteering his time and planes back in 2009, Ilg has flown 12 Hope Air flights, eight of them this year.

    Ilg has had a lifelong love of flying, and by volunteering for Hope Air, he points out he gets to see a big chunk of B.C. while helping people who are going through a tough time in life.

    Hope Air covers half the cost of the fuel, and Ilg gets a tax credit on the rest.

    “I want to go flying, anyway,” he said on Wednesday of his passion for flight and helping people get to their scheduled medical appointments.

    “It is a reason now to go flying — it has become my hobby.”

    On any Hope Air flight, Ilg has a close eye on the conditions and will not take any passengers in high winds or other bad weather.

    “My attitude is safety, comfort, schedule,” he said.

    Since he is often going over mountain passes, Ilg has a simple rule. “If the winds over the mountains are in excess of 45 knots [83 km/h], I will not fly,” he said.

    So far this year, Hope Air has provided more than 5,700 flights for people across the country. Of those, 70 per cent are from B.C.

    Hope Air flies people of all ages to their medical appointments.

    Ilg said his passengers have had a wide range of medical conditions. Some have been on his flight to get a liver transplant, others are travelling for follow-ups to a major operation.

    “I don’t ask what their medical condition is,” said Ilg. “I’m there to give them a nice flight. Some volunteer their medical information, but I don’t ask.

    “As a Hope Air Volunteer Pilot, I get enormous satisfaction knowing that I am helping someone get to the doctors, specialists or treatments that they need to get better.

    “Hope Air makes sure that people’s access to health care is not limited by where they live or how much money they have. I’m proud to be part of the Hope Air goal of ‘Getting Canadians To Getting Better.’”

    Hope Air executive director Doug Keller-Hobson said they have about 135 active volunteer pilots. Comedian Rick Mercer and former astronaut and federal Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau are national honourary patrons of the registered charity.

    Keller-Hobson noted that Hope Air flights can be from “anywhere there is an airport.”

    “Canada is a big country, and medical specialists for certain conditions may exist in only one or two places across the country,” he said.

    And he emphasized that they use only experienced pilots. “We have high requirements for being a pilot with Hope Air,” Keller-Hobson said.

    Hope Air typically helps clients who live at or below the poverty line.

    The charity also has flight time donated through Canada’s various airlines, and when necessary they will pay for a ticket on a domestic carrier.

    The charity’s Flight Purchase Program uses donated funds from individuals, events, corporations and foundations to purchase flights when donated flights can’t be arranged.

    To make a flight request online or make a donation, go to or call 1-877-346-4673.