December 29, 2011
By Jim Moore
A Gulfstream V lifted off from New York’s Westchester County Airport on Dec. 22 with a special passenger on board, a girl bound for cancer care in Florida. The landing in Palm Beach marked 30 years of donated aviation orchestrated by Corporate Angel Network, with more than 40,000 flights—and counting.
Executive Director Peter Fleiss said those flights, which began with a Detroit-to-New York trip for cancer treatment piloted by CAN co-founder Leonard Greene, have richly rewarded recipients and donors alike. Corporate flight departments, pilots, and schedulers work hard to make travel plans fit the needs of cancer patients and executives. Fleiss said the matches have often sparked lasting friendships that corporate executives might not have expected.
“It has a really strong effect on them, the fact that they’re able to do this very easily and it means so much to the people,” Fleiss said. “Once these executives fly with patients, then they want to continue doing that.”
Supported by donations from 550 corporate flight departments, along with organizations including the National Business Aviation Association (which raised $220,000 to support the mission in October), CAN has grown dramatically in recent years. Fleiss said up to 300 patients now travel on donated flights each month, and the organization has worked in recent years to spread the word to major cancer centers, physicians, and corporate aviation.
“That seems to be working nicely,” Fleiss said. Demand for donated flights still outpaces the supply, however. As many as 250 flight requests cannot be filled in a typical month because of the complex logistics involved with matching empty seats on planned business trips with the needs of patients.
“It’s really fairly complex to get those things working in the right direction,” Fleiss said. With industry analysts predicting continued growth in business aviation in 2012, CAN welcomes new donors with seats to give, Fleiss said. All patients travel to or from accredited treatment centers, and require no medical support in flight.
The organization Greene helped launch in 1981, flying a 16-year-old boy home to Detroit for Christmas after cancer treatment in New York, has since received many honors, including the Volunteer Action Award, the highest volunteer award bestowed by the President of the United States. Donations support a paid staff of six, and a team of 50 part-time volunteers work with patients, physicians, corporate flight departments, and leading treatment centers to coordinate medical travel.
“We’re not done growing,” Fleiss said.
Pilot Skip Gibbs regularly uses his Bonanza A36 to bring medical volunteers and supplies to remote areas of Mexico. Just before sunset, Gibbs was flying to the historic city of El Fuerte in the state of Sinaloa where LIGA International Flying Doctors of Mercy has been doing good works since 1934.
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Crosswinds Aviation partners with Michigan’s Howell High School and the Young Eagles to create a GA education program.