Des Harrison is flying high for Australian medical care

Angel Flight takes advantage of one CPA's flight skills and generosity to help people get medical care.

When Des Harrison CPA hears an aircraft roar, he can’t help getting excited. He built Coopers Colonial motel near Brisbane’s Archerfield Airport in 1990, and seeing and hearing planes coming and going soon had him wanting to take to the cockpit himself.

“I’ve always been interested in flying, so I decided to get my pilot’s licence and it flew on from there,” he says.

“I’d bought some units at Emerald in country Queensland. Talking to people there, I found their need to come to Brisbane for [medical] treatment was difficult as it was a long drive and they couldn’t afford airfares. So when I heard about Angel Flight, I joined to hand something back to the community.”

Harrison’s first assignment for the charity, which provides non-emergency flights for patients in rural areas to access healthcare, was transporting a 12-year-old burns victim from the small Queensland town of Cunnamulla to a metropolitan hospital in 2006.

“Cunnamulla is a 10-hour drive from Brisbane whereas an Angel Flight takes only two-and-a-half hours,”

Harrison explains.

“The family and the boy were very grateful for the trip. I felt a great sense of satisfaction by being able to help out.”

Eight years later, Harrison has clocked up 41 Angel Flights in his Beechcraft Bonanza, including short stints from Hervey Bay to Brisbane, and longer trips to interstate destinations including Lightning Ridge in northern New South Wales, and Bankstown in Sydney’s west.

Angel Flight covers the fuel and airport charges for the flights. The volunteer pilots supply the planes and that most valuable commodity – their time.

“It’s the most part of a day you give up to do the trip and every couple of months the opportunity comes up,” says Harrison.

“Mine is a faster plane than some of them, so they might prefer me to do the longer flights.”

Harrison, who worked mainly in general accounting for corporations such as Philips and BHP, credits his CPA skills for propelling him toward a change in direction. A foray into property development, starting with a caravan park back in 1982, led to him meeting quite a few pilots. Soon he was inspired to follow suit.

“Without that background, I wouldn’t have been able to get into what I’m doing now,” Harrison reveals.

“It gave me the financial capability to buy an aeroplane and learn to fly, and it also gave me time.”

The 72-year-old says he won’t be grounded anytime soon.

“I’ve just done my annual medical and I’m very healthy. While you can pass your flying test every two years, I can see this happening for the next five years at least.”

Onwards and upwards

When businessman Bill Bristow saw how charity flying was making a mark in the US, he was determined to bring the initiative to Australia and make life a little easier for people living outside major cities.

He founded Angel Flight in 2003, and the not-for-profit service coordinates free flights for people who would otherwise have to endure long, physically taxing road trips to get medical treatment. Flight requests are registered by health professionals and donations to the charity pay for fuel and airport costs. 

Angel Flight now has almost 2600 volunteer pilots across Australia, and since the service’s launch they have made more than 14,500 flights and assisted more than 2400 patients and family members. 

Des Harrison, who has a Private Instrument Flight Rating, says there should be clear skies ahead so long as the volunteer pilots don’t need to upgrade to commercial licences.

“I think it will continue on for many years as it does in America, as long as we don’t get too much government intervention.”

For more details about Angel Flight go to

This article is from the February 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK.

February 2015
February 2015

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