By Cole Parkinson
STARS Air Ambulance financials are looking strong in the early stages of 2020.
A delegation was in Municipal District of Taber council chambers to provide an update on their organization during council’s regular meeting on Feb. 25.
“For about the last three years it (the budget) has been pretty much status quo. On the expenditure side, you can see that about three-quarters of the pie are aviation and medical components. The smaller pieces of our budget continue to be the base operations or dispatch coordination as well as administration costs. We are at 15 per cent and we have been at 15 per cent for the last three years,” said Glenda Farnden, senior municipal relations liaison.
The biggest fundraising push for STARS is already underway with the STARS Lottery.
Farnden explained the Alberta STARS Lottery is the single largest fundraiser in the province as it provides $10 million net and last year’s sell-out brought in $11.5 million.
On top of that campaign, the group sees additional funding from a few other sources.
“On the funding side, we are still in a 10-year affiliation agreement with Alberta Health Services for 20 per cent per year, block funding which equates to just over $7 million per year. This last fiscal year, they surprised us with a one time top-up of an additional $2 million so that brought them up to 24 per cent government funding. That still leaves us with 76 per cent fundraising and usually, it is a 20/80 split,” added Farnden.
STARS also has a calendar campaign that brings in between $800,000 and $1 million per year and they have site registration that is around $3 to $4.5 million a year.
A big push for funding for STARS has been to replace their fleet of helicopters with a newer model.
While they have been more than happy with the older helicopters, they are being phased out of production and finding parts has continued to present challenges for STARS.
“This last year we have been tackling a $117 million capital campaign for nine helicopters to replace our current fleet of 11. The BK 117, which is on the tarmac, it has been a workhorse and served us very well going on 35 years but it has been phased out of production. We have had some incidences last year where we had some difficult times and we had a hard time getting parts so it became apparent that we needed to look at this capital campaign now because it will take several years to find those kinds of funds,” explained Farnden, who also explained H145 helicopters will be the new standard for STARS moving forward.
“The new aircraft is not a brand new fancy thing, because we would still have the BK if we could, it’s just not sustainable,” added Jeff Morris, director of operations. “The beautiful thing about having a new aircraft is the safety updates.”
Morris also explained the new H145’s move faster, go further and can carry more, which will all be added additions for STARS.
To pay for these new helicopters, the organization has been helped by two provincial governments and the federal government.
It was explained to council the Saskatchewan government was paying for one of three H145’s in their province, the Alberta government was paying for one of five in their province and the federal government was paying for an additional five helicopters to the tune of $65 million.
That leaves funding for the last two helicopters which carry a hit of $13 million each.
“The first three have been delivered,” added Farnden.
They also have to have training for pilots to adapt to the new helicopters as well as additional equipment to upgrade along with the helicopters.
Farnden stated there was $35 million left in the current campaign and around $10.5 million had been raised already.