Alberta pilots fly COVID-19 supplies to communities in need

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WATCH: Jack Liang and Amer Ja have delivered more than 10,000 masks to High River and Brooks, Alta., as those communities cope with COVID-19 outbreaks – Apr 29, 2020

A small, four-seat Cessna 172 is not the most typical cargo plane.

But Jack Liang and Amer Ja have already used the plane to make two deliveries of COVID-19 supplies to Alberta communities hit hard by recent outbreaks.

Liang said he saw other pilots doing similar missions and started asking if Alberta could use the service.

READ MORE: Alberta updates COVID-19 modelling, adds low ‘likely’ scenario

“I contacted Brooks’ mayor and first asked if they needed any essential medical supplies like masks and hand sanitizer,” said Liang. “He said that would be very helpful.”

Liang started reaching out to organizations to donate both supplies and money to rent the plane.

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He says both the Calgary COVID-19 Chinese Help and Relief Group and the Calgary Dongbei Chinese Association have donated over 10,000 masks, along with enough funds to cover rental costs.

Liang also got in contact with Ja, a WestJet Encore pilot who’s currently laid off, and they planned the deliveries.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Where Alberta’s COVID-19 outbreaks are

Ja said his experience flying cargo planes in northern Canada came in handy when figuring out how to efficiently transport so many boxes in such a small plane.

“I came up with the idea of taking the back seat out and filling as much cargo as we can while respecting the weight and balance,” said Ja. “That way, we could do one trip with all the supplies.”

The first flight took place on Friday with the pair flying from Springbank, Alta., to Brooks.

On Monday, they made another delivery to Brooks with a stop in High River.

Liang is still working on his pilot education and is logging hours during the flights.

He said it’s his way of using his skills to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

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READ MORE: Alberta museum looks to document COVID-19 pandemic for future generations

“We both enjoy flying, so to do something we enjoy and, at the same time, help others, I think that’s a win-win situation,” said Liang.

Ja said he’s hoping to get back to flying for work, but for now, these quick hops satisfy the need to fly while helping those in need.

“Once you’re in the air, you’re out of the world’s problems,” said Ja. “At the same time, we took this passion to help out during this crisis.”

Needed supplies

Barry Morishita, mayor of Brooks, said the masks are needed, and he’s encouraged that people outside his community are taking notice of their struggles with COVID-19 outbreaks.

He said the masks will be prioritized for front-line staff and essential workers.

“The stock that we have, including the stuff from [Liang and Ja] will be put into our inventory,” said Morishita. “It’s always good to have extra resources to know that people that are doing those jobs are protected.”
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Liang and Ja said they are also reaching out to other communities to see if similar donations could be used.

They’ve set up a fundraising page that they say will go to buying supplies and renting more airtime for deliveries.

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