A ceremony on Friday thanked Delta Air Lines for donating a jet that will be used to train emergency responders nationwide and from foreign countries.
The Bombardier CRJ aircraft, a 50-passenger regional jet that’s typically used to link Montana cities and ferry passengers to airline hubs in the West, is the second jet that the Rocky Mountain Emergency Services Training Center has received recently.
The jet arrived at the airport on Saturday, said Ron Mercer, Helena Regional Airport Authority director.
The center, which is owned and operated by the Helena Regional Airport Authority, was given a Boeing 727 cargo jet by FedEx last year.
This is the first time that Delta has donated an aircraft, said Cynthia Van Epps, regional director corporate real estate/
airport affairs for Delta. She is responsible for a 10-state region that includes Montana.
“This is something we haven’t done before,” she said as the room at one of the airport’s fire stations filled with people who came for the ceremony. More than 65 people attended the event in which speakers representing the
Airport Authority, city of Helena and Lewis and Clark County thanked Delta for its generosity.
The costs to fly the jet to Helena, which includes maintenance, fuel, staffing and permits, was about $35,000, Van Epps said. The jet is valued in the range of $150,000 given its nearly 20-year age and the market for these jets.
Airlines are beginning to phase out this style of passenger jet because newer models can accommodate slightly more people and offer greater fuel efficiency.
The training center here helps prepare emergency responders such as law enforcement weapons teams and firefighters, she said, adding, “To have an aircraft, to have the galley and seats as it if is in service … it’s just a different, real-world experience they can get.”
“Delta is about safety,” Van Epps continued. “Delta’s top priority is safety.”
Inside the jet, passenger information and magazines still filled the pockets behind each blue leather seat as though for its next flight.
Copies of the March 2012 issue of Delta’s magazine, Sky, featured a story on Cinema Paradise: The world’s best film festivals. The cover was given over to a photograph of Jennifer Lawrence, “Hollywood’s Indie darling.”
Helena city Commissioner Dan Ellison, a former Navy pilot, acknowledged the importance of having the jet for training when his turn came at the podium during the ceremony.
There is nothing like being able to train in the actual aircraft that’s in use, he said.
Howard Skjervem, chairman of the Airport Authority, called the donated jet a great thing for Helena and for Delta.
Having the jet will put the training center “over the top” for similar facilities in the United States and Canada, Pete Hartman, the training center’s coordinator, said.
The donation came after a request to Van Epps last year by Hartman. What made the donation become a reality, she said, was a meeting during which Mercer asked Delta CEO Richard Anderson if Delta would donate the aircraft to the training center.
“We’re the only airport in the nation that Delta’s donated a plane to,” county Commissioner Mike Murray said.
“I think this continues the strong education course we’re able to offer for people who come to our fire training center,” he added.
Having the airplane allows firefighters to experience how cramped it is inside when wearing their gear and self-contained breathing apparatus, Mercer said. Firefighters will better understand where the jet’s galley is located. They will also be better able to inspect the landing gear should a plane report heat from sensors that monitor landings.
“It makes a difference when you have to do things,” Mercer explained.
Airport officials named the new jet Ivory, a play on “Ebony and Ivory,” the 1982 number one single by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. The FedEx jet is named Ebony. Part of the song was played after fire station overhead doors were opened and the crowd went to view the donated jet that was parked just outside.