June 17 declared Hope Air Day by health-care charity

When Oziel Guerra takes to the skies in his plane, his heart soars not only for his love of flying, but his ability to help the special passengers who sometimes accompany him.

Guerra is among the small number of pilots who volunteer their skills and time with Hope Air.

Since 2010, the agency has worked with private and commercial airlines to provide free travel arrangements, including flights and accommodation, for people who must traverse long distance from remote communities to receive health care services.

“It just made sense. I like flying and it’s a good way to give it a purpose,” he said.

“Not only for fun and taking your family, but actually helping someone.”

Guerra heard about Hope Air from a friend and fellow pilot and knew it was something he wanted to get involved with. He applied, interviewed and started ferrying passengers last year.

Around one in five people living in Northern and rural communities in B.C. have had to cancel a medical appointment due to distance or cost. Guerra acknowledges it’s not always about the money.

“For some people, it’s not only about having the funds, but having the time,” he said. “(Hope Air) is very convenient and it’s very safe.”

Hope Air says it has seen a sharp increase in the number of requests for help from patients around B.C. It provided 14,132 travel arrangements in 2023, a 145-per cent spike from the year before.

Around 25 per cent of Hope Air clients are children.

The charity declared June 17 as Hope Air Day across the province in hopes of raising awareness about the work being done.

“The pilots are only a small part of it,” Guerra said.

“These people who are behind it, coordinate a lot of things, transportation, lodging, eating and of course, the medical services provided. Nothing could happen without them.”

Last year, the province provided $10 million to Hope Air to transport cancer patients. Bringing equity in health care to more British Columbians is a key component of the agency’s model.

We acknowledge that we live and work on the unceded, traditional territories of many Indigenous peoples. We are grateful for the privilege of being on lands that these peoples have nurtured since time immemorial.