The head of Ontario's air ambulance service said Tuesday there's not enough money to hire paramedics for all three of its aircraft based in Thunder Bay. But insiders say Ornge can't respond to some urgent calls, because its helicopters often sit idle.  

Workers at Ornge told CBC News helicopter pilots spend a lot of time on the ground at the Thunder Bay base, where there are only two paramedic crews for three aircraft.

ORNGE chief operating officer Tom Lepine said there's a simple reason for that:

"We don't have the funding for it."

Lepine said the Thunder Bay air ambulance fleet used to consist of one helicopter and one airplane. He noted that the airplane is more in demand because it doesn't have the same weather and distance limitations as a helicopter — so Ornge added a second plane last spring. 

Lepine said paramedics were able to pick up almost 500 more patients this year over last.

But an Ornge staffer said the majority of those were non-urgent calls, including patient transfers. He said the helicopter — not the planes — are the true emergency aircraft.

"If I was able to get further funding to put paramedics on all three of those aircraft, we could certainly keep both … and have paramedics on the helicopter as well," Lepine said.

CBC has agreed not to identify the workers as they said they're worried about repercussions for speaking out.