"Center, This is Compassion Seven-One-Golf"
Helping seriously ill patients reach far-off medical facilities gives pilots the perfect reason to fly.
- By Tom LeCompete
- Air & Space magazine, March 2000
(Page 3 of 6)
Boyer and Goodwin wouldn't meet each other for several years, but in the meantime other groups around the country sprang up, some after hearing about Boyer's and Goodwin's efforts. Many would seek one or the other's advice on how to organize their charity, recruit pilots, and avoid problems with the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result, many of the groups flying patients are modeled after those founded by Boyer and Goodwin.
Take Angel Flight Northeast, the group I fly for. It was started by Larry Camerlin, a former Franciscan friar who, after leaving the priesthood, got married and started an ambulance service in Massachusetts. In 1994, after 12 years of growing the business, Camerlin sold it. He then pursued a lifelong interest in flying and started taking lessons, getting his license in 1996. While deciding what next to do, Camerlin read an article about an Angel Flight West pilot in California and was so moved he called up and said he wanted to fly for the group. When he learned that there was no similar organization in New England, Camerlin, with his background in the ministry, health care, business, and aviation, decided he was the man to start one.
Camerlin rounded up a handful of pilots, mostly flight instructors eager to fly, for a meeting in the basement of the Beverly Municipal Airport in Massachusetts. From those beginnings, Angel Flight Northeast has grown to more than 500 volunteer pilots, most of whom learned about the organization from other pilots, news items, or the Internet.
Today, more than 4,500 pilots are now volunteering their services across the country; they have flown more than 45,000 patients a total of 28 million nautical miles. Not bad for what started out as a handful of well-intentioned pilots in need of a good excuse to fly.
As the groups have grown and become more visible, they have also become better able to negotiate the waiving of landing fees at frequently used airports and discounts on fuel for pilots on charity flights. For example, Signature Flight Support, a company that operates the nation's largest network of fixed-base operators, gives volunteer pilots a break on fuel costs of up to 50 cents a gallon at its 30-plus airport locations in the United States. Similarly, Massport, which runs Boston's Logan International Airport, waives landing fees for charity flights, saving pilots about $100 a flight. For John Duval, Massport's assistant director of operations, the decision to waive the fees was an easy one. For one thing, Massport was already extending that courtesy for charity-related events; for another, Duval was a volunteer with Angel Flight himself.
Since pilots have to pay all of the operating costs incurred on charity flights, breaks like these, in addition to the tax deduction pilots can take for some charity-flight-related expenses, can keep flying costs down.
In return, most organizations require their pilots to own their own aircraft, have at least 300 hours logged as pilot in command, and have an instrument rating (some groups tell their pilots to fly the passenger leg of each flight IFR--instrument flight rules--to increase safety and reliability).
Angel Flight Northeast requires prospective pilots to attend an orientation. "We want to get the message out that this is much different than flying a friend or friend's friend down to breakfast or lunch," says Camerlin. "It's flying people who don't know you at all, who have never met you, who are under tremendous stress in their life and who now have to travel by private aircraft, probably for the first time." Sensitivity and communication are buzzwords at the orientation.