Identifying a critical need for a scheme to support rural Australians having to to travel to major cities for medical diagnosis, treatment and often extensive follow up visits, Mr Bristow devised a charity which met these essential needs. His lifelong passion for flying led him to recognise the benefits pilots and their private aircraft could offer to rural and remote Australians across the nation.
Buoyed by regular trips to outback areas, his association with pilots in medical professions and increasing closures of specialist medical services, he looked closely at the worsening disadvantages faced by rural communities.
From humble beginnings with 80 volunteer pilots, and no passengers, Mr Bristow launched a charity – Angel Flight – which now has more than 3000 registered pilots and 4000 drivers (‘Earth Angels’) who together volunteer their aircraft and vehicles, skills and time to transport passengers to medical appointments.
Mr Bristow set up a remarkable system of linking 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. All services are free and at no cost to any person needing medical attention or to the government.
A keen aviator, Mr Bristow’s first flying achievement was gaining a glider pilot licence in 1970, followed by his fixed-wing pilot licence before adding a helicopter licence to his flying skill set. His most recent aircraft, a Pilatus PC12 has been used extensively in the service of Angel Flight.
Honoured nationally in Australia, and internationally, for his outstanding charitable work in aviation: the unparalleled success of a charity assisting tens of thousands of country families to access specialist medical treatment in the cities, Mr Bristow may not have visualised such a significant achievement back in 2003.
Today Angel flight has provided free flights and airport/city specialist drives totaling more than 20 million kilometres. With in excess of 47,000 fights, carrying over 100,000 rural Australians from every Australian State and Territory, and every age group, Angel Flight continues to grow, ensuring rural people no longer need to drive up to 14 hours each way on dangerous outback roads to obtain medical check-ups and treatment, and for compassionate visits for those who must be close to loved ones in often very difficult situations.