The wait is over for those who have longed for the day when Air Creebec would be able to do simple, non-urgent hospital transport from Eeyou Istchee to Montreal.

On June 7, Air Creebec signed a medical shuttle contract with the provincial government. The two-year contract effectively breaks the stranglehold rival Prop Air had on the Abitibi region. Air Creebec will transport Natives as well as non-natives twice a week for various operations at larger institutions such as the Montreal General Hospital.

“We pick up patients in the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region, namely Val d’Or. La Sarre, Amos and Rouyn and we bring them to the big centres, namely Montreal and Quebec,” said Air Creebec Director General Dave Bertrand. “It enables the hospital to free up the beds quicker. We bring them there and we re-transport others back home as needed.”

The service started June 19 and is part of Air Creebec’s ambitious strategy to expand by underbidding other carriers.

In early 2006, Air Creebec announced the signing of a three-year, $10.3 million deal transporting materials and workers to and from the new DeBeers Diamond mine near Attawapiskat.

This deal is worth $500,000 to $750,000, depending on the number of transports, according to Bertrand.

It is part of Air Creebec’s attempt to woo other towns’s medi-vac transport business now that the province recognizes them as a qualified carrier.

The company has purchased a new aircraft, a King Air 100, with two stretchers and two incubators. Air Creebec also supplies two nurses in a subcontracted deal with a private firm.

“It means a lot to Air Creebec because we’ve been trying to do medi-vacs in the north, but we weren’t a certified carrier by the government,” Bertrand observed. “Now that we have the contract, we’re officially recognized as medi-vac transporters.”

Bertrand also said that with this contract and ones similar to it in the future, Air Creebec is trying to lure as many Cree pilots as they can.

The next step is to visit each northern area with an airstrip in the north that also needs medi-vac transportation to propose Air Creebec as a cheaper and wholly reliable alternative.

“We’re also looking at purchasing more aircraft if everything works out,” said Bertrand. Air Creebec continues to share with Prop Air the medical evacuation flights from the Cree communities. Prop Air’s total number of flights during all of 2005 and up to mid-June was just 42. “We’re hoping to triple that number soon,” Bertrand said.