Raising Awareness of a Vibrant and Growing Volunteer Air Transportation Network
May 9, 2014 | By Maxine Scheer
Space Shuttle Endeavour served a new mission in its home at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. On Sunday evening, May 4, 2014, Endeavour cast a shining light on public benefit aviation at the inaugural Endeavor Awards Gala. Nearly 400 attendees including aviation luminaries, astronauts and supporters received boarding passes to celebrate and honor tireless volunteers who contribute tens of thousands of hours of volunteer time and an estimated 25,000 free flights in general aviation aircraft each year, providing critical transportation services to those in need.
The three Endeavor awardees included Joe DeMarco, Sr., Founder and Volunteer Pilot of Buffalo, NY-based Wings Flights of Hope, Jeff Hendricks, Volunteer Pilot for Minnesota-based Veteran’s Airlift Command, and Joe Howley, Volunteer Pilot and Co-Founder of Long Island, NY based Patient Airlift Services (PALS). The three were chosen from a list of thirteen finalists, recruited from dozens of volunteer pilot organizations (VPOs) nationwide.
Endeavor Award hosts and organizers have roots in one of the largest VPOs, Angel Flight West (AFW) and with a Southern California base in the heart of the entertainment industry, a committee from AFW organized the event and made a bold, visible statement about the contributions, caring and potential of our nation’s network of volunteers from the aviation community.
“We fly people to and from airports that most people don’t know exist,” said Endeavor Awardee Joe Howley of PALS, “and these airports are vital to the healing of our citizens.”
Emotional stories of volunteer flights were presented on video and even more compelling, were the experiences described by friends, colleagues and passengers as each honoree accepted their awards under the shuttle Endeavour.
The gala was spearheaded by Mark Wolper, award winning producer, director, and volunteer pilot. Mark invited fellow members of the entertainment industry to learn about public benefit flying and inspire colleagues to showcase the stories of these hidden aviation heroes.
Over the last 12 months the awards committee also brought on-board others to participate in the gala, including two world-class medical institutions, UCLA and the University of Washington (UW) Medicine. “I can think of nothing more kind than public benefit aviation,” said David Feinberg, MD, MBA, and President of UCLA Health System. “The opportunities to healthcare institutions and patients are huge,” said Chris Martin, Executive Director of UW’s Airlift Northwest, “AFW provides incredible value.” “Mark asked us to support the event,” said Johnese Spisso, Chief Health System Officer at UW Medicine, “we are here because we are interested in developing more partnerships.”
A 12-year old boy named Luke joined awardee Joe DeMarco on stage, “if it weren’t for ‘my pilot Joe’, I wouldn’t have my new lungs right now.” “Luke was able to avoid a six hour trip in an ambulance at 2am when I was called to fly him to Pittsburg Children’s Hospital for his double lung transplant when he was 9 years-old,” said DeMarco. “Pilots are always looking for somewhere to go, and this is one of the most important things you could ever do.”
“Volunteer flying is a great and growing philanthropic activity,” said Veteran’s Airlift Command awardee Jeff Hendricks. Jeff wants ANN readers to know that it’s easy to get involved, “just contact one of the 60 plus volunteer pilot organizations, sign up as a command pilot or volunteer, and go through the training.”
Angel Flight West initiated and funded the inaugural Endeavor Awards gala to tell the stories of volunteer pilots to a nationwide audience. Organizers note the Second Annual Endeavor Awards Gala in 2015 is anticipated to provide other volunteer pilot organizations the opportunity to raise funds and broaden awareness of the great work they do.
“We have lifted off on our cross-country journey to let America know about the work of volunteer pilots,” says Wolper. “The 2014 Endeavor Awards is the first leg on this journey to tell the stories of saving and improving lives through the gift of flight.” Mark Wolper is President & Executive Producer of The Wolper Organization at Warner Bros. and Chair of the Endeavor Awards Host Committee. Sean D. Tucker, renowned Oracle Team Airshow Performer and Pilot and Honorary Chair of Young Eagles, emceed the Endeavor Awards Gala.
Many of the videos shared at the gala are available on the Endeavor Award website, including a simulation of daily charitable flights produced by FlightAware. A list of 60+ Volunteer Pilot Organizations (VPOs) and more information about public benefit flying can also be found at the Air Care Alliance (ACA).