CAN proves that angels do exist, and they can fly

 - November 14, 2007, 9:03 AM

The Corporate Angel Network is not a high-profile charitable organization. But it remains successful, and each year matches the travel needs of more than 1,200 cancer patients with the schedules of corporate flight departments and individual business aircraft owners. It is indeed a corporate angel with aluminum wings, devoted to providing free air transportation for those stricken by cancer and requiring treatment in cities far from their homes.

CAN was founded in 1981 by private pilot Priscilla Blum and fellow cancer survivor Jay Weinberg. Today it fills 35- to 40 percent of cancer patient requests, primarily through a fleet of some 1,500 business aircraft made available by participating members. On a relatively minuscule annual budget of well under $1 million, the agency fills empty seats on some 100 corporate flights a month.

Fifteen-year-old Aisha Day recently filled one of those seats. Suffering from chronic myelogenous leukemia, only a stem-cell transplant might save her life. The problem was that Aisha and her mother Linda lived in Detroit and they would have to make numerous trips to New York City for treatment. “We were desperate,” said Linda Day. “Since we couldn’t book flights in advance, we were looking at spending thousands of dollars each trip. We were really at our wits’ end.”

Another leukemia patient suggested they contact the Corporate Angel Network. Within hours, said a spokesman, volunteer schedulers had arranged seats for Aisha and her mother on a New York-bound corporate jet.

“Corporate Angel Network turned our transport problems around,” said Day. “It not only rendered a critically needed service but did so with sensitivity, compassion and concern.”

Aisha’s flights were among some 14,000 arranged by the White Plains, N.Y.-based agency in its 20 years of operation.

CAN currently has some 500 corporate members; 28 new companies and individuals have joined since the first of the year. While that may sound encouraging, volunteer executive director Thomas Robertazzi told AIN that in recent years mergers and closings of flight departments have made the agency’s recruiting efforts ever more difficult.

Nevertheless, numerous corporate aircraft operators support CAN with great enthusiasm. “Being part of CAN is one small way a corporation can live up to the goal of being a good corporate citizen,” said AT&T chairman and CEO Michael Armstrong. “It’s not just a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”

Corning Inc. joined CAN in 1983 and recently flew its 1,500th patient flight. “It allows our patients to schedule trips up to six weeks in advance and has never had to cancel a flight,” said CAN director of volunteers Liz Lockwood.

The same enthusiasm is typical of the CAN staff of some 60 volunteers, as well as its two part-time and four full-time employees. From facilities at Westchester County Airport, they provide a regularly updated list of cancer patients and their travel requirements–city pairs, dates and other information.

To qualify for inclusion in the CAN database used to match patients and flights, patients must be traveling to recognized treatment centers, be ambulatory, have medical authorization to fly and not require life support systems or on-board medical assistance. A family member or companion may accompany the patient if a seat is available.

In recent months CAN has introduced the weekly Corporate Angel Network e*schedule Internet e-mailing to allow flight departments and individual aircraft owners more easily to match the needs of patients with empty seats on scheduled business flights. E*schedule is in addition to the current process of matching patients and flights by telephone or fax.

Robertazzi said CAN has also benefited in the past year from the efforts of Manhattan advertising firm French/Blizer/Scott, which has contributed advertising and promotional literature.

CAN also celebrated a record this year for its annual Greater Washington Aviation Open golf tournament fund raiser. The event brought in $83,000, allowing the agency to exceed $500,000 in total contributions. Besides the tournament, the event organizers raise revenue through a live auction of “Flights of Fancy,” business-class travel packages to Europe and Asia, and first-class tickets to U.S. destinations.

For additional information on the Corporate Angel Network, call (914) 328-1313, go to www.corpangelnetwork.org or e-mail info@ corpangelnetwork.org.