To the rescue: Air Creebec and Propair partner up to provide medevac services

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Air Creebec is part of a winning bid to provide medical evacuation services in Quebec.

Air Creebec President Matthew Happyjack announced February 5 that the company had joined forces with Rouyn-Noranda-based Propair Inc. to provide emergency medical evacuation (often abbreviated to medevac) flights across Quebec, but especially in Eeyou Istchee.

“What this changes is that sick people are going to be transferred sooner and more quickly,” Happyjack said. “It’s closer, [with planes based in] Rouyn, instead of waiting for a plane taking off from Montreal and flying up north to do a medevac. Before, most of those flights came all that way from Montreal.”

Following a province-wide public tender by the Cree Board of Health and Social Services (CBHSSJB) for bids from air-transport suppliers to provide emergency flights mainly to Montreal and Val-d’Or, Happyjack said that Creebec and Propair agreed to join forces as natural partners due to their knowledge of the north. Air Creebec, Happyjack noted, has done some medevac flights, but they were provincially organized and flew on a schedule.

One of the advantages of partnering with Propair is that they have several King Airs – turboprop aircraft with pressurized cabins that many Crees have flown in – that are no longer part of the Creebec fleet. The partnership not only provides the Cree Nation access to Propair’s planes, but especially to their King Airs that function as dedicated Medevac planes – outfitted with two stretchers as well as limited seating for doctors and nurses.

“We’ve lost a few King Air [planes] and didn’t bother buying more because we wanted to concentrate on our Dash-8 operations,” Happyjack explained, adding that different specialize their equipment, training and experiences. “You have to keep parts and training and pilots for King Airs too, so we figured we’d be better off concentrating everything on Dash-8s.”

Jack Blacksmith, Étienne Lambert, Matthew Happyjack and Tanya Pash celebrate the new agreement between Air Creebec and Propair

Jack Blacksmith, Étienne Lambert, Matthew Happyjack and Tanya Pash celebrate the new agreement between Air Creebec and Propair

This partnership follows an announcement in October of an alliance between CHBSSJB and Air Creebec to offer a dedicated medical shuttle making direct flights from Chisasibi to Val-d’Or and Montreal. As Happyjack put it, “It’s for the patients who are mobile, to avoid having them do the milk run.”

For Happyjack, the affiliation with Propair will benefit the Crees. He notes that joining forces doesn’t just mean sharing equipment, but also sharing knowledge of the territory, the people and the culture between two companies that have already been flying in the Cree Nation for many years.

“We’re going to be more visible in the communities with that contractor, too,” said Happyjack, “because we’ll have our logo next to Propair’s on the planes.”

In a press release, Propair president Étienne Lambert said, “Air Creebec and Propair have been working side by side in the territory of James Bay for many years, so it’s a completely natural alliance.”

That, in turn, is a benefit for patients airlifted during emergencies. Not only will their planes arrive sooner, they’ll be staffed by people who are familiar with Cree communities, destinations and customs.

Propair’s base in Montreal is next to that of Air Creebec, which Happyjack said got the conversation started. Air Creebec has primary bases in Montreal and Timmins, and secondary bases in Val-d’Or, Waskaganish and Chisasibi – in keeping with its mandate to encourage development and self-sufficiency in Eeyou Istchee.

“Maybe in the future we’ll base a plane in Chisasibi,” said Happyjack. “Then we’d really be able to save some time. That’ll depend on how well it works, and on the partnership with the Cree Health Board to better serve the people. The Cree Health Board gave out the tender as a one-year and they’ll re-tender again in a year, so we’ll see what happens.”

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