Nearly 30 years ago, as experimental chemotherapy trials were cropping up across the country, a group of pilots at Santa Monica Airport thought of a great way to make better use of their flying skills: Provide free air transportation to people with health care and other compelling human needs who live in remote areas. So began Angel Flight West (AFW), founded in 1983, which took to the skies in 1984 and flew 15 missions its first year. These flights now help a broad swath of people across the 13 western states (including Alaska and Hawaii) get the help they need.
A “regular” medical mission might take Scott A. from Springville, Utah to UCLA in Westwood for his ongoing oncology treatment for brain cancer, an otherwise 10-hour drive that is physically and financially debilitating. As Scott says, “I cannot thank the pilots enough!” Other flights help to relocate survivors of domestic violence, transport children to special needs camps (such as for burn survivors or for the deaf and hearing-impaired), offer support for wounded military personnel and their families through organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project, and fly children in foster care to out-of-state adoption events to meet prospective adoptive parents.
Passengers may fly only once or many times, depending on their need, but no matter who is being flown or the reason for it, every flight is the same: it is happening only because of the generosity of the pilot. He or she, whether a company exec putting a hobby to good use or a retired commercial pilot using a lifetime’s skill to help others, is wholly responsible for the cost of that flight, donating around $4.00 in kind for every dollar spent by AFW, or around $400 per flight. Alas, in tough economic times and with an ageing pilot population, a shortage of pilots poses a real threat to the charity’s continued growth and success; as such they are always looking for new pilots and non-pilot volunteers to keep this worthy service flying high.