Angel Flight West Helps Pilots Save Lives At Santa Monica Airport (Video Interview)


Recently, we caught up with Josh Olson, the Director of Mission Operations at Angel Flight West at the Santa Monica Airport. He was nice enough to stop by our offices and share with us some details about this incredible organization.

What is Angel Flight West and who does it help?

Angel Flight West arranges free air transportation for people traveling to and from medical treatment or other compelling human needs. It’s a group of volunteer pilots that donate their plane, their time, their cost, to fly people who don’t have access to healthcare or could not afford it. Transport them to the airport closest to their home, airport closest to their medical treatment of free of cost.

How does this help to the local community near Santa Monica Airport?

It helps in multiple ways. We’re fortunate living in Southern California to have access to all of the cutting edge healthcare in the world. But people from surrounding areas, surrounding states don’t have that access. So it helps us bring people to our resources to get the treatment they need. But also, there’s occasions where there’s a resident here in Santa Monica or nearby that has a rare disease and they need some sort of treatment. Also, perhaps they need a clinical drug that is not available in our area but they don’t have a way to get there or they don’t have a way to get there repeatedly because healthcare situations has tax them to the point where they’re nearly bankrupt or they don’t have any resources left. So they contact Angel Flight and we find a pilot to fly them to improve treatment or a commercial airline partner that can get them where they need to go to get the treatment that they need and healthcare they need. The other area that we deal a lot for this community is we deal a lot of special need schemes. So let’s say with a burn survivor or a kid with cancer or maybe a life threatening illness like HIV. There’s camps around the State of California and around our 13 Western States Territory that host this camps. So kids can go and be around other kids like them. Can feel normal, not be stirred up, not ask questions that are coping with the same things that can they get go for week and get away. We do that for a lot of kids especially from the privileged areas in LA that are going to New York City or going to Arizona or they’re going to Northern California Mountains. It’s kinda like get away from the world for a while and feel normal.

Who pays for Angel Flight West?

All the costs are donated by the pilots or our commercial airline partners. There’s no cost to the passenger whatsoever. We are a 501(C)(3) non profit so the costs our commercial airline partner donates to us are tax deductible to a degree. And then our office staff, we fundraise like any non profit. We get individual donations, we get grants, we got fundraising events to pay for the cost of keeping lights on, keeping everyone organized, and technology that supports it.

What happens to Angel Flight West if Santa Monica Airport closes?

Angel Flight was founded at Santa Monica Airport in 1983. A handful of pilots said, “Hey, we really wanna do something other than punch holes in the sky or fly for a hamburger.” So they put it together and in first year they flew six flights. Last year we flew over 4,000 flights. So it’s really grown and we’ve officed here at Santa Monica Airport the whole time. We are based here because a lot of local hospitals and oncology centers are close to here, we fly a lot of flights in an out of this airport. We have a group of volunteers that come and after the pilot delivers them, they’ll pick them out with a car and drive them to UCLA and driving back. As you can imagine, someone from our rural areas that’s travelling on tip to Santa Monica can be overwhelming. And the cost of the cab isn’t cheap. If Angel Flight wasn’t located in Santa Monica Airport, that become exponentially different. Because then those passengers and our office would need to move to Van Nuys Airport or Torrance Airport. And getting you to UCLA would be tough because, as you know, the traffic is bad. Over $100 cab rides, stuck in traffic. Are you going to find volunteers that are gonna traffic there. So, it would be really sad. There’s a big heritage Angel Flight West is the first Angel flight there ever was. Now, we are an organization all over the country. And so, little bit about that heritage will be lost if you move that in a year. Then obviously, logistics become be a lot more difficult for our passengers too. It’s hard enough flying in and out and trying to transport here and there but having to drive that extra length that would be hard for them in their condition.

I'm not a pilot, can I still get involved and volunteer?

You don’t have to be a pilot to volunteer. Our pilots are doing a lot of the heavy lifting as far as in-kind donations and transporting people. But, you heard me mentioning earlier that we have program we called Earth Angel that was started by a local pilot here in Santa Monica. They created this program to drive people to improve treatment. We get a couple of emails a week said, “Hey, who’s coming in to town? This is the time need to travel. This is how many people that need to travel. This is where they need to travel from.” Just like our pilot have no obligations to do it. This is on their own time and their own willingness. We also have office volunteers. So, there’s a lot that goes on by to make sure that they fly 4,000 flights a year so we need help. We’re a non-profit. We try to make the most of our bigger resources so we use a lot of office volunteers. And you can always support Angel Flight West financially. Like I said, it takes a lot to operate. So, you can donate on our website at Angel Flight West. You can follow us on facebook and twitter and help us tell our story because unfortunately, we are too good of a secret kept. We need people to know what we’re doing out there and maximize our volunteers and our resources.

Learn more about Angel Flight West.

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