Five on the Fly: Mark Pestal

Five on the Fly: Mark Pestal

WHO: Mark Pestal

COMPANY:
AeroAngel

POSITION:
President/Founder

HOMEBASE:
KAPA / Denver, Colorado

 

1. What led you to form AeroAngel in 2010? 

As a board member for a volunteer pilot organization, I saw an unmet need to provide a higher level of service to children needing to access critical but distant medical care by using more capable, pressurized aircraft to fly long distances, often on short notice. Many flight requests were going unfilled due to the limitations of single-engine piston aircraft flown by less-experienced pilots who were often not comfortable flying in instrument flight conditions or unable to do so when the potential for icing existed, for example. 

2. Can you summarize the mission and structure of the organization?

AeroAngel helps really sick children access distant, life-saving medical care on private jets at no cost to their families. Flights are limited to those passengers who cannot safely fly on a commercial airline flight, but who do not need an air ambulance. As Children’s Hospitals across the country increasingly specialize in rare diseases and conditions, we’ve seen an increasing need to help a family get their child to a hospital located a thousand miles or more away from home. 

AeroAngel primarily relies upon volunteers to support its mission. Recently, I left my job as an attorney to volunteer full-time to expand our flight program. AeroAngel is a small nonprofit yet still able to respond to calls on an almost 24/7 basis. We have literally launched AeroAngel flights several hours after receiving a flight request.

3. What makes AeroAngel unique compared to other aviation charities?

AeroAngel provides long-distance flights to medical facilities nationwide in private jet aircraft flown by a crew of volunteer professional pilots. While relying on flights donated by turbine aircraft owners, AeroAngel operates its own jet, a Lear 55, from Centennial Airport in Denver. With the larger aircraft AeroAngel uses, an entire family (and flight nurse, if needed) can travel to a medical facility, along with a large payload of medical equipment that many seriously ill children must take with them, including, for example, an oxygen concentrator that needs AC electrical power.

4. Can you share one of your most memorable passenger stories?

We received a call several years ago from a mother whose 22-year-old daughter, Courtney, suffered from a life-threatening kidney disease. She was set to be discharged to hospice care from a Denver hospital, but her mother was able to find doctors at John Hopkins in Baltimore willing to treat Courtney if she could get there. I called a friend with a jet to see if he could do the flight. He said he could do it next weekend. I replied that “Courtney will not be here next weekend.” He then asked, “When do you want to go?” and I said, “How about tomorrow at 7 a.m.?” He called back an hour later to say he would do the flight. After a 7 a.m. departure the next morning, Courtney, who was barely hanging on and in severe pain on the flight, made it to John Hopkins. Several weeks later, she walked out of the hospital. 

5. What are ways owner-pilots can get involved and support the program? 

AeroAngel primarily relies upon donated flights in turbine aircraft to fulfill flight requests. Joining our flight program is simple, and we handle all of the flight logistics, including providing an additional crew member or mission assistant when necessary. Even one donated flight can transform or save a child’s life. 

Financial support is also needed to operate AeroAngel’s Learjet and expand our ability to provide flights across the country. We also rely on in-kind support and volunteers to provide families a safe option for critical, long-distance transportation. For more information, pilots can visit www.AeroAngel.org or contact me at mark@aeroangel.org. 

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