Volunteer pilots earn their wings again
As Jim Cear takes off in his Beechcraft® Bonanza®, he's carrying a precious passenger—Mason, an 8-year-old boy who suffered burns on 87 percent of his body. Mason is traveling from New Jersey to Boston for medical care at Shriners Hospital for Children. The nonprofit organization has coordinated more than 94 flights for Mason and his parents at no cost.
As the volunteer chairman for Angel Flight NE, Cear is one of more than 1,000 pilots who donate their time, aircraft, fuel and skills so individuals like Mason can get to the medical care they need without enduring lengthy road trips or incurring additional financial hardship. These pilots provide flights in their personal aircraft free of charge to those in need.
Jim Cear flew 8-year-old Mason and Mason’s mom Christine from New Jersey to Boston for medical care at Shriners Hospital for Children. The flight in Cear’s Beechcraft Bonanza takes a little more than an hour, saving Mason from a painful eight-hour drive.
"Sometimes their immune system is compromised, and they can’t get on commercial airlines, or they have a physical issue that makes it difficult if not impossible to travel seven or eight hours by car," Cear said.
And, then there’s the cost. Families facing an illness or medical tragedy can quickly deplete their assets traveling back and forth to hospitals and paying for hotel stays and meals on the go. For these families, airline tickets—especially the high cost of last-minute bookings—are unaffordable.
“Medical expenses are the No. 1 cause for personal bankruptcy in the United States. All sorts of folks fall into that category—a carpenter, electrician, school teacher. If they, or one of their family members, have a long-term illness, they may have to quit work to go back and forth to the hospital,” Cear said.
Jim Cear poses in front of his Beechcraft Bonanza V35B with his daughter Alexis. As chairman, he says his group operates more than 80 flights a week, 4,000 flights annually.
“The family’s income goes down, the copayments and deductibles go up. And then there are the out-of-pocket expenses that insurance does not pick up. Now, they can’t afford a plane ticket. Angel Flight can at least solve that component for them. We’ll take them as often as they need to go. There’s no limit.
Cear volunteers for six flights a year in addition to his duties as chairman. His flights typically involve three legs—from his home base at Gabreski Airport on Long Island, N.Y., to the patient, then to the medical facility, and back home again. A typical flight might be three or four hours of flying, covering about 600 or 700 miles.
Angel Flight Northeast by the numbers
years of flying
flights a week
patients and families
Angel Flight Northeast, an independent group founded in 1996 by Larry Camerlin, also a volunteer pilot, works collaboratively with similar organizations in other parts of the country.
One of Angel Flight NE’s passengers relaxes in flight. The organization flies patients to 189 medical centers in 33 states.
“We work with centralized groups, such as the Air Charity Network and the Air Care Alliance to broaden our reach and maximize efficiencies. We share economies of scale with things like software, as well as coordinate the transportation of people around the country with link flights,” Cear said.
Cear has been flying for Angel Flight Northeast for nearly two decades. In addition to flying patients for medical necessity, Cear flies veterans as part of the group’s Angels for Armed Forces program, which helps military personnel visit doctors, hospitals or their families.
“For those of us who volunteer, life has been fortunate. We love doing this. We want to give back,” Cear said.
To volunteer your time or request a flight, visit the organization’s website at angelflightne.org.