For some she’s a pilot. For some she’s an angel. For certain, she’s a woman with wings.
Since 2017, Kelli French has been on Stat Air’s flight crew, providing emergency transport from Hi-Line hospitals to more specialized facilities in Great Falls, Billings, and beyond state lines.
“We get patients to the nearest, most appropriate receiving provider in a timely manner,” explains Clay Berger, the Director of Stat Air. “We began as an air ambulance service under Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital, and now, we’re a self-sustaining non-profit company. We own the aircraft. We hire the medical crew and pilots. We control all aspects of the company.”
With that control comes Stat Air’s obligation to hire the
best crewmen and women it can find—from the Hi-Line,
French fit all the criteria.
At Malta, she started flying lessons as a teenager. After high school, she attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings, graduating with a Bachelor’s in Aeronautical Services in 2012.
“Originally, I wanted to be a missionary pilot,” she recalls. “I wanted to use my love of flying to help people. I came to the realization that I was able to do that closer to home.”
French applied at Stat Air in 2017 but didn’t yet meet
the requirements to fly solo. In order for insurance to
cover her, she would need to log 1,200 hours of flight time
On August 22, 2019, she finished her required hours and passed her FAA competency test.
On September 1, she delivered her first patient from Glasgow to Billings as a full-fledged captain.
“It was a big flight for me,” she says.
Only when the patient had been safely delivered did it dawn on French what a momentous day this was for the medical crew as well. The nurses were Michelle Ozark and Jill Meirs. The whole crew was female.
“We’ve got quite a mix of employees, but that was the first time since we began in 1984 that Stat Air had an all-female crew,” says Berger.
“It was a remarkable day,” says French—for her and for the other women with wings.