Courtesy of JET Asia-Pacific magazine Issue 30.
Those who have been given much are often among the people who are most active in finding ways to give back to society. In fact, their philanthropy often takes forms that the rest may not even realize or imagine. Private jets and their owners and operators play a major role in giving back to the community through “flying charities.” These charities can take many forms, including groups that utilize pilots who donate their time, aircraft, and skills to fly underprivileged patients to and from treatment centers, others that utilize aviation’s greater mobility to provide crucial education and improve the quality of people’s lives, and still others that use empty legs of business trips to transport patients in need.
Since 1993, Angel Flight is the name that has been used by a number of groups whose members provide free transportation for needy patients and perform other sorts of community service missions. The network operates in various parts of the world to provide free, non-emergency air transportation for patients who require medical treatment but cannot afford to pay for a commercial flight. This service is provided by volunteer pilots, many of them using their own private aircraft. Angel Flight missions are the perfect way for pilots who love flying to make their time in the sky well-spent.
In Australia, Angel Flight focuses on helping rural people access specialist medical treatment that would otherwise be unavailable to them. All flights offered by Angel Flight Australia are free, and can cover any destination nationwide. Bill Bristow, founder and Chairman of the Board of Angel Flight Australia, first started flying in 1970. The founding of the organization has allowed him to combine his sense of social responsibility with his love of flying. He represents the perfect blend of management skills, aviation knowledge, and a proactive social consciousness that is at the heart of charitable aviation work.
Operating across borders, Orbis International is a non-profit NGO dedicated to saving sight. Its programs focus on preventing blindness and the treatment of blinding eye diseases in developing nations. Since 1982, Orbis International has provided treatment to more than 23.3 million people in 92 countries. Its first country program was launched in Ethiopia, with programs soon following in Bangladesh, China, India, and Vietnam, and later one in South Africa. Each country program is run by local staff to develop and implement a range of projects to improve the eye care offered to people in rural and impoverished urban areas.
One of Orbis’s best-known services is its “Flying Eye Hospital,” a ophthalmic hospital and teaching facility located on a DC-10 aircraft. Volunteer pilots fly the plane and its international medical team to developing countries around the world, where they offer both education and treatment. Conversion of the $14 million aircraft for this specialized mission cost a further $15 million and took 18 months to complete. Its first operational mission flew to Beijing in July 1994. In addition to the flight deck, the aircraft is home to a classroom, an audio-visual room, a laser treatment room, an operating room, and a communications center. Orbis is headquartered in New York, with offices located in Toronto, London, Dublin, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, and Taipei.
The Corporate Angel Network (CAN) is a non- profit charitable organization in the US whose mission is to arrange free air travel for cancer patients to treatment centers by using the empty seats on corporate aircraft flying on routine business. The Angel Jet Network is a newly set up charitable organization established to operate across the Asia Pacific region according to the same philosophy and vision. Launched at ABACE 2015 in Shanghai, the Angel Jet Network (AJN) plans to partner with corporate aviation providers willing to donate empty legs, empty seats, or empty flight hours to transport patients from remote locations to medical facilities. Unlike CAN’s limited focus on cancer patients, the Angel Jet Network will offer charity flights to patients with cardiac and pulmonary diseases, as well as congenital deformities and disorders. The network’s aviation partners include business jet owners, operators, and airlines who wish to share their rich assets with the less privileged. Since its foundation, AJN has received wide support from aviation, medical, and non-profit organizations, as well as many other related organizations in the aviation industry, such as the NBAA, Altitudes magazine, Lulu Wang & Partners, Beijing Raybay Medical Group, and Roberto & Co.
The founding board of directors for AJN, William Schultz and Jane McBride, are two pioneers in the business aviation industry and influential figures in the Asia Pacific market. Co-founder Priscilla (Pat) Blum has accepted the role of Honorary Chairman of the Advisory Board of Angel Jet Network. Pat co-founded and served as president of CAN in 1998, and it was her idea to fly cancer patients to specialized treatment centers using empty seats. More than 47,000 cancer patients’ lives have been changed as a result of her visionary leadership.
It is heartwarming to be reminded of the generous spirit seen in the aviation industry. While it is a sector of the industry that is often overlooked, the fact is that charitable applications of business aviation aircraft and crew have not only been active for decades, but are quickly on the rise. This is especially true in our own region, where dynamic organizations such as Angel Flight Australia, Orbis, and Angel Jet Network have really begun to take off in a big way. The future looks bright for charitable flights and the lives they will touch.