STARS Air Ambulance is hoping to raise $1.5 million alone through their annual calendar this year to help keep their services free to patients.

STARS' Peter Van Veen explains it costs approximately $6,000 each time they fly in Manitoba. As a non-profit, the service is supported partially through Manitoba healthcare and local donations.

"We're here to save lives," he says.

And the Pembina Valley remains one of the busiest regions for STARS, which has seen 140 missions to Winkler alone since 2012.

The organization is also nearing its goal of $13 million for an upgraded helicopter that will serve Manitoba and the Pembina Valley.

The new Airbus H145 will replace the aging BK117 model nearing the end of its lifespan. STARS rep Shandy Walls explains their current models are no longer being manufactured and becoming more costly to maintain and source parts.

Walls notes the new helicopter is a more technologically advanced flying intensive care unit and adds more interior space, which she says staff is looking forward to. The helicopter's design also sports a smaller footprint, allowing pilots to land in even smaller spaces. She adds they're proud to be the first helicopter service in Canada to carry blood products and perform transfusions on-scene.

The change is part of a streamlining process the air ambulance service has undergone across Canada to move from two helicopter models, eight BK117s and three AW139s to a unified, single-platform fleet.

Each new Airbus H145 costs $13 million CAD. They hope to purchase nine helicopters to serve B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

While the new $13 million helicopter has been ordered for Manitoba, Walls notes another $5 million is needed to be raised in the province. The new aircraft is expected to be in use by next spring.

The 2020 calendar features stories from people whose lives were saved by the air ambulance service, as well as images of their new, upgraded helicopter.