The man whose vision led to a charity that has helped tens of thousands of country families to access specialist medical treatment in the cities has retired.
Sixteen years ago Bill Bristow AM identified a critical need for a scheme to support rural Australians having to travel to major cities for medical diagnosis, treatment and often extensive follow-up visits, and Angel Flight came into being.
It was his lifelong passion for flying that led him to recognise the benefits pilots and their private aircraft could offer to rural and remote Australians across the nation.
CEO Marjorie Pagani said his regular trips to outback areas and close associations with pilots in medical professions showed him firsthand the increasing closures of specialist medical services and the worsening disadvantages faced by rural communities.
"From humble beginnings with 80 volunteer pilots and no passengers, Mr Bristow launched a charity that now has more than 3000 registered pilots and 4000 drivers - Earth Angels - who volunteer their aircraft and vehicles, skills and time to transport passengers to medical appointments," she said.
Angel Flight has provided free flights and airport/city specialist drives totalling more than 20 million kilometres and in excess of 47,000 flights, carrying over 100,000 rural Australians from every state and territory, and every age group.
Mr Bristow gained a glider pilot licence in 1970, followed by his fixed-wing pilot licence before adding a helicopter licence to his flying skills set. His most recent aircraft, a Pilatus PC12 has been used extensively in the service of Angel Flight.
"Mr Bristow set up a remarkable system that linked health professional registrations and referrals between all large city hospitals to outback clinics, remote area nurses and specialist institutions, as well as a network of essential skilled volunteer pilots and drivers," Ms Pagani said. "He may not have visualised such a significant achievement back in 2003."
All services are free and are no cost to the government or the public.
Mr Bristow has been honoured nationally and internationally for his outstanding charitable work.