Out-of-work pilots fly masks to COVID-19 hot spots in southern Alberta

Instead of passengers, a little white-and-yellow Cessna 172 was loaded up with more than 10,000 masks.

Delivering support helps keep flying skills sharp while giving back to towns in need

Jack Liang, left, and Amer Jaouni are flying personal protective equipment (PPE) to small Alberta communities in need. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Instead of passengers, a little white-and-yellow Cessna 172 was loaded up with more than 10,000 masks.

The PPE was bound for Brooks and High River, Alta., where the COVID-19 outbreak has become one of the biggest in Canada.

The pilots, Jack Liang and Amer Jaouni, are out of work — but instead of sitting at home, they wanted to help. 

Liang said that when he heard the news about the climbing COVID numbers in Brooks and High River, both home to meat-processing plants, he was inspired by something pilots in the United States were doing.

He got in touch with the Calgary COVID-19 Support and Relief Group to source personal protective equipment (PPE) and started a fundraiser online. 

And now both pilots are where they want to be: in the cockpit with an unencumbered view of the horizon, 1,200 metres up in the air in a rented plane.

"We're in this pandemic all together," Liang said. "If we all try to help each other at this critical time — I think that's just such a beautiful thing."

Liang said it gives him a sense of pride to help.

Jack Liang pilots a flight to Brooks, where he will deliver 10,000 masks. (Submitted by Amer Jaouni)

Jaouni was working for WestJet with a couple of months under his belt when the pandemic hit. Along with thousands of others, he was laid off. 

But this initiative meant he could get back to work. 

"I felt like flying and supporting others will get me through this," he said. "Flying is like love and when you don't have love, really, you start to miss it. So with the passion of flying, and doing this, helping the communities, especially small communities, gives you a sense of pride." 

In order to load more than 10,000 masks into the Cessna, the back passenger seats had to be removed. (Helen Pike/CBC)

The first order of business, Jaouni said, was calling communities across the province with a simple question: what do you need? 

"Our main goal is to look at the communities that have the most cases and hopefully supply them with their medical needs," Jaouni said. 

While both pilots hope they don't need to make more of these flights, they are already on their second trip. 

Jaouni said they will continue to drop off supplies as long as they are needed, during the pandemic, and as long as they can afford to keep flights going. 

"With people being so generous lately, I think I can see this being something huge," Jaouni said.