Organizations: Angel Flight
Friendly Skies: Angel Flight’s mission is to transport patients who need specialized medical care that isn’t available to them locally and who can’t afford to make the trip on their own, says the organization’s executive director Jeanine Chambers Biron.
Passenger List: Patients must be medically stable, noncontagious and ambulatory – unless they’re young enough to be carried. Patients need only call or check online to set up a flight. “The beauty of Angel Flight,” Biron says, “is that we … do not limit our services to any medical affliction or patient age.” Last year’s travel logs included 167 conditions – cancer and burns were most prevalent – and patients from newborns to 100-year-olds.
Taking Off: The organization, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, was founded in 1983 by Jim Shafer, a hospital broker and private pilot who flew out of Atlanta’s DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK). He began transporting organs and tissues before realizing there was a need to ferry patients as well, then recruited 15 of his friends, also pilots, to help.
Flight Plan: From its PDK headquarters, the organization serves Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. “We were the first public benefit flying organization, east of the Rockies,” Biron says. Today, there’s a national association of similar groups that work together to help pilots – whose planes are typically four- to six-seat prop planes – make long trips. A patient in Atlanta seeking cancer treatment in Houston might be flown from PDK to, say, Jackson, Miss., then handed off to a local pilot there for the second leg of the flight.
Frequent Flyers: Angel Flight pilots logged some 2,600 trips last year, carrying almost 800 patients. “We serve patients for the duration of their treatment,” Biron says. “We fly on demand for each individual patient to get them from where they live to where they need to go. Typically we fly each person about four times, however, we have provided up to 80 missions for one family in a single year.”
Earning Their Wings: In addition to Biron, the organization employs four full-time workers and three part-timers. PDK’s fixed based operation companies (Signature Flight Support, Epps Air Service and Atlantic Aviation) provide discounted fuel. But “the true angels and heroes here are our pilots and our donors,” Biron says. Pilots donate their time and all costs associated with the flights; funds raised go toward mission coordination, pilot recruitment and community education. To that end, the organization will host a charity golf tournament May 14 at Chateau Élan. – Shannon Wilder