In 1983, a small group of pilots at Santa Monica Airport formed a chapter of the American Medical Support Flight Team to offer free air transportation for people facing crisis, such as serious medical issues, the need to escape domestic violence, or the need to be reunited with family after a disaster. The pilots were volunteers who loved flying and wanted to use that to help others. They offered their own time, their own aircraft, and covered all expenses. Although one might think that such an offer would quickly be seized upon, that did not immediately happen. In the first year, only 15 requests for air transportation came in. Medical providers and other organizations working with people in crisis may have then seen the offer of free air transportation to be too good to be true. Nevertheless, the volunteer pilots persisted and the number of requests for transportation increased. By 1986, chapter members decided to form their own independent organization and name it “Angel Flight West” after the unofficial nickname “Angel Flight” used for their former chapter. The number of volunteer pilots and requests for air transportation continued to increase and, by 1987, Angel Flight West pilots had flown a total of 380 missions.
Angel Flight West made the effort to reach out to hospitals and medical providers, domestic violence shelters, and children’s protective services. The number of incoming requests accelerated. By 1988, Angel Flight West had grown to the point where they needed to bring in a full-time employee to help manage and coordinate their operations. Over the next decade, the number of volunteer pilots and number of requests continued to increase. In 1997, the organization formed regional “wings” to better serve their expanding geographical reach.
In 2003, Alaska Airlines partnered with Angel Flight West to offer free air transportation to those in crisis in Alaska and between there and the lower 48.
Angel Flight West operates in a way that resembles a small airline. They match and coordinate volunteer pilots with requests for transportation across the Western U.S. Their pilots, all volunteers, range across an assortment of day jobs such as teachers, scientists, engineers, physicians, lawyers, executives, retired commercial pilots, and business owners. They not only provide and use their own aircraft, but also assume the full cost for each flight. Passengers pay nothing.
In 2017, Angel Flight West arranged for transporting more than one thousand passengers (about a third were children) in 4,527 flights. Aircraft and flight expenses paid from the pockets of volunteer pilots amounted to almost $5.5 million. They now operate in 13 states.
Angel Flight West
3161 Donald Douglas Loop South
Santa Monica, CA 90405