Compassion Airlift: “Help when you need it most”
Many pilots with a personal aircraft use their planes for recreational or business purposes… a family vacation, a business trip, practicing their pilot skills and gaining professional accreditations. But there is an organization in Manassas whose pilots do not always fly for these reasons. Compassion Airlift, a 501(c)(3) non profit, is a unique type of organization with very special people.
Piedmont Lifestyle met with CA pilots Peggy Doyle and Mary Weybright and Mike Pearson to catch up on what is happening with Compassion Airlift.
Can you tell me what Compassion Airlift does?
Our mission is to provide free air transportation for eligible patients to medical facilities for specialized evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, or rehabilitation that is not available near their home, especially for those who require a stretcher en route.
What sort of missions has CA flown?
We transported a delightful six-year-old from Virginia to the Burn Center at Shriners Hospital in Boston, a cancer patient to a specialized treatment center, an Alzheimer’s patient to a care facility closer to her family, a legendary Tuskegee Airman to a care facility, and many more. Some are younger veterans with combat related injuries. Some are older WWII veterans. Giving back to veterans is an honor for us. Sometimes they are met at their destination by an honor guard, police departments, fire departments, or their own unit. That’s really incredibly emotional and special.
“I feel fortunate to be able to use my skill as a pilot to serve others. We are hopeful that we are able to continue this service to our community and that others will support CA.” —Sami Qura, pilot
What is unique about CA?
Our Bonanza N7709R is the only charitable single-engine stretcher-equipped plane on the east coast. The FAA-approved stretcher system was installed for patients who need to recline during flight and are unable to travel on other forms of either public or other charitable air transportation and cannot afford an official medical transport.
Who is eligible for this service?
Transportation at no cost is available for patients and veterans who have a financial need and are unable to travel by public transportation. A financial need doesn’t mean that they are poor or indigent; sometimes medical expenses can just overwhelm a family, especially if it requires frequent travel. There are some patients who need frequent treatments who we have flown multiple times. Those are people we can help.
Who else can travel with Compassion Airlift?
Military veterans and their families, special needs children traveling to camps. Also, CA is always prepared to help in the event of disaster or emergency conditions.
“One of my most memorable flights was picking up a toddler with heart problems from a mountaintop airport in West Virginia to bring him to treatment at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. What was special about this was that I had ability to save the family the very long road trip with a sick toddler. It was so nice to meet these people and get to know them and also to provide this service for them. This is the thing we can do that is a real gift to us to have that opportunity to help people, and a real gift to them to be able to fly that quickly.” —Mary Weybright, pilot
Who are your pilots?
We have 11 active pilots on our roster. All the pilots donate their time to CA. Every one of our pilots is involved because of a calling to help less fortunate people who have a financial and medical need for no-cost air transportation. The Pilots are all professional, experienced, accomplished aviators, most with experience in the military, corporate, or commercial airlines. Some are flight instructors. All of our pilots donate their time, their talent, and their treasure to Compassion Airlift, LLC operations without compensation of any kind except for the satisfaction that they are helping people in need.
Do you ever fly with patients in emergency?
No, but we do fly time sensitive missions, usually involving organ transplant. Once an organ becomes available there is only a four to eight hour window to get the organ to the patient, or vice-versa. In that case we mobilize as necessary; sometimes, if it’s faster, pilots will use their own planes in this situation.
Do you ever fly missions that are not specifically medical?
Yes, we have flown patients that need air transport home from a medical facility, even just for a visit. Once we transported a veteran from Walter Reed, who hadn’t been back home in three years, to his home in Michigan for Christmas and then back again to continue his treatment. We have transported an Alzheimer’s patient from a care facility to another care facility near her family.
“Why we do it, we all feel the same way…we feel we’ve been blessed in our own lives, we all feel it’s important to help other people; we all truly feel that. But when you go out and you see these people who truly need help, and you are able to help them, and when you see the look on their faces, not only the gratitude but the feeling that now they have a chance for something better, and what I found is that many of these people will give something back to us…we’ll pick them up and they’ll have a bag of homemade cookies or something… just little things… those are really neat things.” —Mike Pearson, pilot
What is the history of CA?
We started in 1977 under the Mercy Medical Airlift umbrella. In 2015, the Bonanza pilots and owners began flying as in independent entity as Compassion Airlift, obtaining 501(c)(3) status in 2017.
How is CA funded?
Compassion Airlift relies on private donations, donations from pilots, and donations from local organizations. For example, the Bull Run Rotary donated funds from their 5K walk/run. Other donating organizations include Christian Community Church in Bowie, MD., the Rockville Elks and the REMAX Freedom Team.
What sort of non-monetary support do you receive from the community?
We do receive in kind support from related organizations. For instance, most airport fees are waived, and sometimes other airports donate fuel. We also receive support from local companies such as Dulles Aviation, APP Jet Center in Manassas, and companies such as Boeing Jeppesen (charts and training materials), XM Radio (aviation weather), Capital Aviation, and Computer Training Systems.
What are your operating costs?
The operating costs of CA, including aircraft maintenance, insurance, fuel, oil, hangar costs, and other expenses is about $40,000 per year. Often this goal is not reached through donations. This organization will only be able to survive as long as resources permit. We are in great need of support. But we want to emphasize that no one who needs stretcher transportation that cannot be served by other charitable or low-cost medical transport services is ever turned away.
The pilots and owners of the organization donate the flying costs of the plane. But we are simply not going to be able to continue indefinitely unless we get some funding.
“I am a nurse by profession. Combining my passion for flying with my dedication to caring for others was a perfect fit. Getting to fly is a bonus; this is so much more meaningful. It gives us a purpose.” —Peggy Doyle, pilot
The backbone of this organization is the volunteer pilots, who contribute their time, talent, and treasure to help those in need. What do they get in return? They just love being able to help people, and they love flying. As Peggy Doyle says, “pilots can never get enough flying time.” But the thanks and gratitude of their passengers and families is the truly fulfilling part. The warm hugs are the best form of payment.
To learn more about Compassion Airlift visit www.compassionairlift.com
To donate visit www.compassionairlift.org/donations/donate/. Every little bit helps.
Volunteers are always needed in the fields of PR and advertising, web support, fundraising and grant writing, and visiting medical facilities and we can always use more experienced and dedicated pilots.