JACKSON — The last thing a sick child or adult needs is a long journey by car to check into a hospital that specializes in treating their disorder. But flying is often prohibitively expensive, particularly for patients who are already tapped out by high medical bills.
Flying to the rescue is Advantage Air of Jackson, an executive air charter business based at Hawkins Field in Jackson, which is part of a nationwide network of 1,500 businesses and pilots involved in donating their aircraft to fly sick patients.
“We fly patients who can’t otherwise afford to fly or travel,” said Jack Coulson, a pilot who is vice president of Advantage Air, which is owned by Harold Mayo. Mayo is also owner of Magnolia Forest Products in Terry, one of the fastest growing private businesses in the state.
Mayo donates the use of the airplane and pays for fuel and expenses. Coulson donates his pilot services. The efforts to help provide transportation for sick patients started about three years ago. They average one trip per quarter for the organization called Airlifeline (www.airlifeline.org).
Air charters are expensive. A trip from Jackson to Houston and back, for example, costs in the range of $2,500, and most of the missions flown by Advantage Air are longer than that. While most Airlifeline pilots do short trips of a couple hundred miles, often Advantage Air’s missions have been 500- to 600-mile trips.
“It makes you feel good to do this kind of thing,” Coulson said. “You wish you could fly them all, but you can’t because it is so costly. It is a real nice thing that my boss is doing here.
“Children and adults, we have some of both. The children, in particular, touch your heart. Usually we’re taking them to M.D. Anderson or the Shriner’s hospital. These kids are really sick and usually have brain tumors or other bad illnesses.”
Atlanta and Houston, Texas, are common destinations. Decisions about which patients will be helped are made by regional coordinators of Airlifeline. They contact participants such as Advantage Air in order to schedule trips for sick patients who need air transportation but can’t afford the service. Patients have to be recommended by a doctor or one of the corporate sponsors of the program such as McDonald’s. Mission requests are sent out over the Internet to participants in the program.
Coulson said they have to turn down as many missions as they take because of the expense involved. “We wish we could do more,” he said.
Patients can’t be critically ill such as intensive care patients because the trip would be too difficult. Patients have to be ambulatory and able to get into and out of the airplane. Usually support people like parents or spouses accompany the patients.
Advantage Air’s Beech King Air C-90 is larger than most airplanes used for Airlifeline.
“We have one of the larger airplanes in the group,” Coulson said. “So they love it when they get in an airplane like ours.”
Coulson has found donating his time very rewarding. One of the first patients he flew gave him an angel pin as a thank you, and he keeps the pin with him all the time. He has also enjoyed the thank you cards that come from the sick patients. Even knowing the prognosis is poor for many of the patients, it feels good to be part of giving them the best possible chance to recover.
The Advantage Air charter business is growing, partly because of practicality. Coulson said businesses have found that although chartering an airplane is expensive, it saves on other costs. For example, if salesmen or executives need to travel to Memphis or Atlanta, driving takes two days. An overnight stay is required, which racks up charges for hotels and meals. And the executive is out of the office for two days.
Contrast that to flying over and arriving relaxed instead of tired from a long drive, doing your business, and then returning that evening.
“It is a great business tool to keep their people in the office where they need to be, or get them to their customers where they need to be quickly rather than driving for hours,” Coulson said. “The advantage of an air charter is we leave on your schedule, come back on your schedule, and we can land at a lot more airports than the big boys. We can land at a lot of the smaller airports.”
Although their main clientele is business people, they also have done some family travel trips and sometimes take groups to college ball games.
“A lot of alumni don’t want to drive a long way to the games, but are died-in-wool-fans,” Coulson said. “Five or six will get together to fly to the ballgame. We’re hoping that is going to be a good market this year.”
For more information on Advantage Air, call (601) 948-3419 or visit the Web site www.flyadvantageair.com.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.