Ponoka town council discussed a letter Mayor Kevin Ferguson sent to Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr regarding the Ponoka Airport, during their regular meeting on Jan. 10.
In the letter, Ferguson asked Orr to look into why Alberta Health Services (AHS) decided to suspend medical flights into the Ponoka Airport for the winter.
“Unfortunately, with the meetings we’ve had and the multiple meetings I have had with other entities that factor into this issue, I am left really with more questions than I started with,” said Ferguson in the letter.
He stated that according to the airport’s records, there were 101 medical flights landed at the Ponoka Airport in 2022 as of Nov. 1, 2022.
For those flights that would normally take place in the winter months, Ferguson said, “That’s a lot of ground ambulance time now spent on the road between say Wetaskiwin or Red Deer airport. It would appear that this change in service has the potential to increase service demands on an already over taxed ground ambulance service.”
According to Ferguson, Ponoka County’s volunteer firefighters where the first to respond to medical events 18 times in 2022, “including the near-tragic events of Nov. 21, where our firemen had to take a patient to our hospital in the back of a pickup.”
Ferguson said he had also learned the airport started charging a “landing fee” of $250 for twin propped aircraft.
“This one I find the most upsetting, because as I was told by AHS … that this decision was made due to our perceived shorter runway, and contracted pilot inexperience which presented as a safety risk.”
The letter stated while Ponoka’s airport runway is currently 3,089 feet long, Ferguson was told runways are supposed to be at least 4,000 feet to comply with safety standards.
However, Coronation has a runway length of 3182 feet, Donnelly has 3,000 feet, and Valleyview has 3,300 feet, and yet they remain open for winter operation, said Ferguson.
“In comparison, the Ponoka Airport is closed for air ambulance service while it serves two hospitals representing about 400 beds, and with a catchment area from Ponoka County to Maskwacis with a population of about 45,000 people,” he said.
“These numbers do not even begin to take into consideration the potential population that may be coming in from across the province or even Canada to access services at the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury.
“It doesn’t appear that logic or a specified runway length have informed this decision.”
Ferguson then requested another meeting with all the relevant organizations to “chart a more amicable and productive path forward.”
The mayor stated he spoke with Orr and confirmed the letter had been received, and added Orr was working on setting up the meeting.
Ponoka County council also also recently discussed the situation at the Ponoka Airport.
The Dec. 13 meeting minutes state Coun. Bryce Liddle and the chief administrative officer had attended a meeting with the Minister of Health and representatives of AHS regarding the lack of available ambulances in Ponoka and the cancellation of the Ponoka Airport for medivac use.
They were told the decision not to use the Ponoka Airport had been made by pilots based on safety standards including the length of the runway.
The lack of communication from AHS had been acknowledged by AHS, the minutes state.