Former Angel Flight pilot speaks at Bodalla CWA

Bodalla resident and former Angel Flight pilot Ian Edwards jumped at the chance to speak to the Bodalla CWA women about his time with the mercy flight organisation.

Mr Edwards began flying for Angel Flight back in 2009 and continued to do so for a few years in what he described as his most enjoyable part of being a pilot and flying.

And even though he has sold his share in his plane, VH-BXI, after moving to the coast from Canberra, he and his wife Jen continue to support the organisation financially through his own business ventures, which includes South Coast Drones.

The Bodalla CWA women repaid the favour of him speaking by making a $100 donation toward Angel Flight.

Angel Flight was launched in April 2003 and is a charity that coordinates non-emergency flights to help country people trying to deal with bad health, poor finances and those just generally disadvantages by distance. 

All flights are free and may involve patients travelling to medical facilities anywhere in Australia, although during his time based out of Canberra, Mr Edwards was mainly flying people from rural areas west of Wagga and also the South Coast to metropolitan areas.

Mr Edwards was proud to tell the story about Leonie, someone who he transported from Merimbula to Canberra and back over a couple of years. 

“Leonie’s condition is that she has a cochlear implant that needs regular monitoring,” he said. “The things that I remember about Leonie is that she would always sit in the back of the aircraft, with her drink bottle or coffee cup, and always love to fly high at 10,000ft.

“She was one of my favorites and one of the nicest people that I’d ever flown.”

His first Angel Flight was in 2010  was flying Donald Gwynne in his 70s or 80s from Moruya to Bankstown for medical treatment, and Mr Gwynne had never been in a small plane.

He also recalled flying 18-month-old Bailey Worldon and sister and mother from Wagga to Bankstown for a cleft palate operation, receiving big hugs when dropping them off at Wagga.

Angel Flight pilots do not carry medical staff or medical equipment and because of this, do not act as an alternative to the Royal Flying Doctor Service or Air Ambulance.

“To give you an idea of how busy we are, Angel Flight regularly coordinates up to 20 flights per day and since beginning, we have conducted around 22,000 flights,” he told the CWA ladies. “Of those 22,000 flights, we have transported around 60,000 patients, carers and family members.”

Angel Flight Australia was launched in April 2003 and is the initiative of Bill Bristow AM, an experienced businessman and pilot, and proud winner of the Australian of the Year Award - Queensland 2005.

In 2009, Bill was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for service to rural and remote communities because of his establishment of Angel Flight Australia and as a supporter of other charities.

Typically, Angel Flight helps out patients of all ages needing medical treatment at destinations where other forms of transport are physically and emotionally taxing or unaffordable, also the transport of blood and blood products, and medical drugs.

To meet guidelines, passengers must be medically stable, ambulatory and physically able to enter and exit a small aircraft, involving large steps, twists, bends, without assistance from the pilot, and also be able to sit up in the aircraft with a seatbelt on for an extended period of time.

If necessary, the passengers must be able communicate with the pilot, although carers may be able to assist with these functions.

Children must always be accompanied by an adult, who can assist with entry, exit and other needs of the child. Angel Flight encourages a friend or relative to travel with the patient.

Angel Flight can assist passengers on multiple occasions, for example, attending follow-up appointments or undertaking a series of treatments for a condition. Passengers must not require medical care during the flight.

Flights are conducted by volunteer pilots in their own aircraft. Angel Flight operates Australia-wide with a growing network of pilots and aircraft. Volunteer pilots come from all walks of life, including businessmen, retirees, aircrew from airlines and others.

“Our volunteer pilot credentials exceed the requirements of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for the carriage of passengers.  We have more than 3000 pilots registered with us,” he said.

To fly with Angel Flight, pilots must have more than 250 hours as a ‘Pilot in Command’;  a current medical clearance and possess all of the relevant experience, currency, and endorsements for the type of aircraft they will be flying.

“Angel Flight volunteer pilots donate their time, their skills and the majority of their aircraft costs for each flight,” he said. “Fortunately, Angel Flight pay for all fuel used while Air Services Australia waive any navigational charges and landing fees.  All costs outside of that though are donated by the pilot.”

Flights are provided by volunteer pilots using their own aircraft or aircraft they have hired at their own expense. These aircraft are termed ‘General Aviation aircraft’ and most have four to six seats, although larger aircraft are available.

The aircraft will either be ‘High Wing’ where the wing is above the cockpit or ‘Low Wing’ where the cockpit is above the wing which may require passengers to climb up onto the wing and crouch down into the cockpit.

Most flights will land at ‘GA’ or ‘General Aviation’ airports such as Bankstown in Sydney or Archerfield in Brisbane. If there is an appropriate airstrip in our passenger’s home town, depending on weather conditions, Angel Flight pilots may be able to land there.

Angel Flight is funded by private donations from Individuals, clubs and service clubs, companies large and small, and deceased estates.

“We have a policy to never follow up donors asking for more money,” he said. “Angel Flight has no budget for fundraising and does not engage commercial fundraising or marketing agencies to fundraise on our behalf.”

Donations are used to pay for fuel used in the conduct of Angel Flight missions or discounted commercial flights when poor weather prevents light aircraft from flying.

“Angel Flight is an exceptional charity in that it does not have a fundraising department and only spends about 15 per cent of revenue on administrative overheads like rent and telephone charges,” he said. “Approximately 85 per cent of revenue is spent on the actual coordination and delivery of its service.”

Referrer’s can easily register with Angel Flight by accessing the website at www.angelflight.org.au

“A referral must be sent to Angel Flight with the authority of a registered ‘health professional’, for example, a medical practitioner, nurse or social worker, who is familiar with the passenger’s medical condition,” he said. “Once a referral has been received and approved, the Flight Coordinators in Brisbane, then invite applications from our volunteer pilots and drivers.”

He encourage everyone to become involved with the organisation – if not as an Earth Angel or pilot, maybe in a fund-raising capacity.

“They are definitely a worthwhile charity and especially so, for those of us that live in remote areas,” he said. “Angel Flight would have been one of the best organisations by far, that I have worked with.  And it’s all run by six full time staff.  Everyone else is volunteers.”

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