Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin, surrounded by the rest of council, accepts a token of appreciation from STARS senior municipal relations liaison Glenda Farnden for the county’s continued contributions to the success of the air ambulance service that’s been in operation since 1985. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

STARS meets with Ponoka County on campaign for new choppers

The emergency services organization is looking at nine new choppers for its three provinces

While Albertans will soon see a push for this year’s STARS lottery, there will soon be another campaign taking flight in 2019.

STARS Air Ambulance is on a campaign to buy nine new choppers for the three provinces it serves: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

With each chopper costing about $13 million, it’s not an easy task, but the current helicopters are getting old.

Glenda Farnden, senior municipal relations liaison for STARS Air Ambulance, met with Ponoka County council Jan. 8 to explain about the new campaign and to thank council for its support of the organization.

“We’ve deliberated for years on replacing our fleet and the time has come, with most of our helicopters nearly 35 years old and at the end of their life spans,” Glenda Farnden, senior municipal relations liaison for STARS Air Ambulance.

Farnden explained STARS will be upgrading to what could be described as the new big sister to its current helicopter model.

With the Airbus BK117 no longer being produced and parts becoming more difficult to find, leading to greater maintenance costs, STARS has committed to the Airbus H145 and will use reserves and financing to buy three right away.

Farnden added that each province STARS serves will receive one, with the first one set to touch down in Calgary sometime later this year.

“The ultimate goal is nine — five in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba — with each one costing about $13 million. We will tackle it one helicopter at a time and anticipate the capital campaign will take at least five or six years,” she said.

It’s expected the official capital campaign will launch later this year, with all funds raised staying in that province. The Saskatchewan government has committed to buying one of the three slated for that province.

County recognized for support

Ponoka County was recognized for its support of a vital emergency service in Alberta.

Farnden presented the county with a framed and engraved photo of gratitude.

“STARS wants to thank you very much for your continued support and commitment to your residents,” Farnden said, noting the county’s annual $2 per capita contribution that began in 2016 has been helpful.

Last year, STARS conducted seven emergency scene calls near Ponoka to go with 17 inter-facility transfers from the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre. Those numbers were up from 2017, where there were four scene calls and three transfers from both Ponoka and Rimbey.

The annual average for the area is 22 calls — based on the last six years. That is around a $140,000 in service value to county residents based solely on mission related costs.

The service recently exceeded 40,000 missions flown since it’s first flight on Dec. 1, 1985.

The funding side of STARS has changed little with the province contributing about 20 per cent of the $38.4 million in operating costs while rest comes from fundraising.

“It gets tougher every year. The lottery is still our largest single source, raising more than $10.2 million last year though that was down from the over $12 million in 2016, so that has really hurt us,” Farnden stated.

She added the calendar campaign, which began in 1993 still takes in over $1 million each year.

“For some reason, the people keep buying, wanting to support STARS and see those patient stories,”Farnden said.

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