In times of crisis, the need for medical care and supplies can skyrocket, and for many, that’s where the real challenge lies. This is where organizations like Flights for Life and Angel Flight come in.
Flights for Life is a nonprofit pilot organization that transports blood and blood products to and from needed areas in northern Arizona. In the past five years, they’ve expanded to New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. And with the COVID-19 pandemic going on, help is needed more than ever.
FFL started in 1984 and works with Arizona hospitals, blood banks, health care agencies and private individuals. The organization is made up of volunteers from various professions, including doctors, airline pilots, ex-military pilots, engineers and business people.
Arizonan Jerry Kapp has flown with FFL since December 2006 and Tino Ferrulli has been part of both organizations since 2015.
“I was a glider pilot, and I bought an airplane. Going out and getting a hamburger or something was always good, but I thought, ‘I’d like to do something more,’” Kapp said. A friend of Kapp’s was a member of FFL and suggested he check it out.
Kapp said FFL flies over 1,500 missions a year with 125 pilots flying three times a day.
“In Arizona, we send out two planes every morning and one plane in the evening,” he said. “We never know how bad the need is for the items we fly.”
Angel Flight has the same concept, except they fly actual people who need medical care around 13 western states. The organization started in 1983 with a simple mission: “Fly people in their own planes for free.”
Angel Flight West (the AZ branch) uses a network of volunteer pilots who fly their own private or rented airplanes, paying for fuel and other flight-related expenses. In 2020 alone, Angel Flight has transported almost 500 people to their medical treatments.
“Angel Flight flies patients who are quite ill and need doctors and hospitals to treat them without costs. The pilots get them to and from these locations on their dime as well,” Ferrulli said.
Angel Flight typically serves patients who require specialized medical treatment at a facility far from their homes, like a clinic with expertise in the treatment of a particular form of cancer or experimental treatments for rare childhood disorders.
Ferrulli explained that other needs are served in some cases, such as transportation to visit a hospitalized family member, transportation to help in times of emergencies or disasters, and even relocation of victims of domestic violence.
“Many public benefit flying groups helped in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example, while others develop partnerships with veteran groups, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, to help recovering veterans,” Ferrulli said.
“Angel Flight was created by a group of pilots who believe in the benefit of volunteering,” Ferrulli said. “This is our opportunity to give back and to remember to remain humble. I feel just as blessed as the patients and supplies I fly as a way of giving back.”