Trump’s visits push charity event to Opa-locka

Trump’s visits push charity event to Opa-locka

Charitable organizers moved an annual event that provides free plane rides to special needs children from Boca Raton to Opa-Locka to avoid flight restrictions imposed when President Donald Trump visits. (Photo submitted by Vital Flight)

A charity event that provides free plane rides to special needs children is being moved from Boca Raton to Opa-locka because of flight restrictions imposed when President Donald Trump visits Mar-a-Lago, organizers said.
The event planned for April 1 has been held at the Boca Raton Airport for the past five years, but organizers said they did not want to risk a last-minute cancellation if Trump decides to visit that weekend.

The event’s move to the community just north of Miami is the latest example of how the president’s frequent weekend visits to his Palm Beach estate are affecting aviation in South Florida. “We do not blame the president,” said Dave Freudenberg, a member of the Rotary Club of Downtown Boca Raton, the event’s title sponsor. “We understand the interest of the nation comes before us.”

When Trump visits, small airplanes and private jets flock to the Boca Raton Airport to avoid stricter security screenings required for planes landing at Palm Beach International Airport, said Tom Powers, chairman emeritus of Vital Flight, the nonprofit group that organizes the charity event.

That means there won’t be space at the Boca Raton Airport if Trump decides to visit that weekend, Powers said. The White House would not announce the president’s travel plans in advance, citing security concerns, organizers said.
Powers said he would have preferred to have held the event in Boca Raton because most of the sponsors, volunteers and children are from Palm Beach County. Moving the event will mean many of the families will have to drive farther to participate, he said. It takes about $17,000 in donations and 125 volunteers to provide the plane rides. About 25 pilots donate their time and aircraft to the cause.

The event allows more than 150 children with cancer, developmental disabilities and other special needs to enjoy a brief ride on aircraft that span from single-engine planes to twin-engine jets. While a few sponsors dropped their support, most have remained committed despite the change, Powers said.

“It’s a tremendous gesture on their part,” he said. “They recognize that these families really have a need. It brings a lot of happiness to people who don’t have a lot to look forward to.” The U.S. Secret Service doesn’t plan to ease restrictions to lessen the impact on local businesses, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said Monday after a closed-door meeting with the agency.

Lantana Airport, only a few miles from Mar-a-Lago, is shut down when Trump visits. Business owners there — from a banner-towing operation to a flight school — say they’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue because of Trump's four weekend visits to Mar-a-Lago. Palm Beach International Airport has also seen a reduction in air traffic, according to a county report.

But at Boca Raton Airport, Trump’s visits have been a boon for business. Typically, the airport averages 200 landings and takeoffs during a weekend in the peak season from Thanksgiving to Easter, said Clara Bennett, executive director of the airport. But when Trump is in town, that number doubles as pilots seek to avoid stricter security procedures at airports closer to Mar-a-Lago.

“Coming directly to Boca Raton is a more efficient option for them,” she said., 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher

Trump flight restrictions put charity event for special needs children in limbo, organizers say

Trump flight restrictions put charity event for special needs children in limbo, organizers say

Charitable organizers moved an annual event that provides free plane rides to special needs children from Boca Raton to Opa-Locka to avoid flight restrictions imposed when President Donald Trump visits. (Photo submitted by Vital Flight)

Flight restrictions imposed when President
Donald Trump visits Mar-a-Lago could ground an annual event in Boca Raton that provides free airplane rides to children with cancer, developmental disabilities and other special needs, organizers say.  

Trump’s frequent visits to South Florida have organizers anxious about whether they’ll be able to hold the event as planned on April 1 at the Boca Raton Airport, they say.  They say they might be forced to move to another airport or cancel the plane rides altogether if the president visits that weekend.

“I've been trying to reach the White House — anybody in the Republican Party,” said David Freudenberg, a member of the Rotary Club of Downtown Boca, the event’s title sponsor.  “All we are asking is for him to stay away on April 1. Let these kids have their day.” Freudenberg said his inquires have been met with the same response — the White House does not discuss the president’s travel plans. 

That presents a dilemma for organizers who must purchase insurance and coordinate volunteers, said David Knies, chairman of the board for Vital Flight. Vital Flight, a nonprofit organization, has held the event in Boca Raton for about five years, and Knies said he’d like to keep it there because the community has embraced it.  About 150 children and their family members are set to participate, he said.  Organizers said the federal government appeared willing to grant special exceptions that would allow the planes to take off, but changes in air traffic caused by the flight restrictions would make it implausible to hold the event in Boca Raton. 

Whenever Trump visits, the Boca Raton Airport is at capacity with jets seeking to avoid tight security rules at Palm Beach International Airport, which is only a few miles away from Trump’s oceanfront estate, event organizers say. As a result, organizers say they can’t be assured there will be space at the Boca Raton Airport for them to hold their event if they don’t know if the president will visit that weekend.

"We plan things so far in advance,” Knies said. ”The real travesty would be we go ahead and hold the event and the whole thing gets shut down at the 11th hour. That's why we are feeling out other alternatives.” Knies said he’s considering airports in Stuart or Opa-Locka as alternative locations. It takes about $17,000 in donations and 125 volunteers to make the event happen. About 25 pilots donate their time and aircraft to the cause. 

How air traffic will be affected when Trump visits

In an airport hangar, children can pet miniature ponies and play in a bounce house. Then they get to spend about half an hour flying in aircraft that span from single-engine planes to twin-engine jets. 
"The idea is to give the whole family a smile when they might not get it that day because they are dealing with this struggle,” Knies said. 

Others are trying to get the president’s attention on how flight restrictions are affecting Palm Beach County. Lantana Airport is shut down when the president visits, and tenants there say they could be put out of business because of lost revenue.  Knies said he’d welcome the president at the charitable event, but the security poses a problem. He said he just wants a few minutes to talk with Trump about the problem.

“We are the small cog in the wheel,” Knies said. “That’s the challenge.”, 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher
Copyright © 2017, Sun Sentinel

Volunteer pilot group gives patients a lift

Volunteer pilot group gives patients a lift

They're critically ill, short on money and even shorter on time. But many patients find solace – and a quick free ride to a specialty hospital – on the wings of Vital Flight. "The flight almost becomes part of the healing process," said Tom Powers, of Fort Lauderdale, chairman emeritus of the nonprofit group and a pilot who has flown almost 1,000 missions. "It helps them escape."

The only volunteer group of its kind based in South Florida, Vital Flight's 30 pilots use their own aircraft to fly patients to hospitals in Florida and beyond. The pilots also absorb all the costs, on average about $300 to $600 per flight.

The service generally is available to patients if commercial flights can't be arranged or aren't affordable. Last year, the organization flew more than 100 patients, mainly to the
Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

It was a godsend for Vicky Scott, of Okeechobee, who needed treatment for stage 3 cancer, said her daughter Marlo Pitsirelos. Last week, the group's pilots flew Scott from her home, just north of Lake Okeechobee, to Tampa in 40 minutes.

Vital Flight pilot Michael Coviello flew Vicky Scott, center, and her daughter, Marlo Pitsirelos, to Tampa earlier this month. The 40 minute flight spared Scott, who is being treated for cancer, a lot of misery. (Courtesy Vital Flight)

"The three-hour drive from her home would have been absolutely miserable for her," Pitsirelos said. "They were 100 percent compassionate." Recently, Powers flew a two-old boy named Chance from his home in Arkansas to South Florida for follow-up treatment at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital. The child needed a five-organ transplant, the result of a birth defect.
"He was very happy boy, sleeping in the back of my plane with his mother," Powers said.

Most flights take less than two hours, an important factor for a patient dealing with the discomfort of chemotherapy, said Bruce Bromberg of Jupiter, a Vital pilot who flies a twin-engine Cessna 310. "Many of the patients have stage 3 or 4 cancer," he said. "We wait for them to receive treatment and then try to get them home before any of the ill effects set in."

But the group helps patients with an assortment of ailments. About two years ago, the volunteer pilots flew a South Florida woman to New York after she was told she might need a leg amputated, the result of bone disease. "She was in a metal brace with pins through her leg, which forced her leg straight out," Powers said. "She never could have flown on a commercial airline. Ultimately, they saved her leg."

Vital Flight also flies dozens of military veterans to the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center each year. Vital pilot David Knies recently flew a veteran who had lost 90 percent of his sight. "He acted as if life was over for him," said Knies, who owns a Cessna 210. "I then had the fortune of flying him home some nearly six weeks later. The new outlook on life that he seemed to have, it was really just an exciting experience to be a small part of."

Most people find Vital Flight by way of its website,, although the company has a small office at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, donated by Powers. Several other volunteer pilot organizations fly sick patients to hospitals at no cost, among them the larger and more established Angel Flight and Mercy Flight. All come under Air Care Alliance, an umbrella agency. "We link together to help people out," Powers said, adding that for pilots, "it's incredibly satisfying; it's a feeling you never forget."

Not to be confused with an air ambulance company, Vital offers patients no medical equipment other than oxygen, if needed, said Powers. He added that the patients must be ambulatory. Vital Flight pilots are particularly proud of "Special Kids Day," an annual event allowing sick children to take airplane rides and enjoy a festive atmosphere. The 2015 event will be held on April 11 at Signature Flight Support at Boca Raton Airport. To help stage the affair, Signature Flight Support, an aircraft service company, this month donated $5,000 to Vital Flight. "It's a great organization," said Garry Madolid, the company's station manager. "We all hope we never to be on one of their flights."

To request transportation on Vital Flight, visit: or 561-243-6530.

Copyright © 2017, Sun Sentinel

Local man takes to the sky to help those in need

Local man takes to the sky to help those in need
Unsung Heroes: Daniel Diamond

June 30, 2012 | By Marlene Roberts, Special Correspondent

Name: Daniel Diamond
Age: 28
Residence: Boca Raton
Family: Parents, one brother and one sister
Career: Aviation business, flight instructor and aircraft mechanic
Cause: Vital Flight, a South Florida-based nonprofit that coordinates air transportation for individuals with compassionate, humanitarian or medical needs. As part of the Air Care Alliance, pilots arrange to transport qualified patients throughout the United States at no charge. It is generally used when commercial air service is not available, is a health risk or is not affordable.
Q: Why do you volunteer?

A: Vital Flight combines my two favorite activities: flying and volunteering. The man next to me in the photo is a legally blind veteran. We flew him to Palm Beach from St. Petersburg to enter a rehabilitation hospital for the blind and learn how to function with his disability. Then we flew him homeicon1. Or it could be a child who is battling cancer who smiles at me, or helping a transplant patient with a lifesaving second chance get where they need to go. The words "Thank you so much, you've helped change my life" are powerful. There is nothing more satisfying.
Q: How did you choose this organization?
A: Two years ago, I heard of a new, local, nonprofit volunteer flight organization. I met with the people and found it to be a perfect fit.
Q: Describe your volunteer role.
A: As a flight captain (or command pilot), I accept and fly missions that are called in. I also help with outreach and fundraising.
Q: What goals do you have?
A: My volunteer goal is to fly six to eight missions within the calendar year. My personal goal is to one day own my own companies: one in the aviation business, the other in private security.
Q: What challenges have you faced?
A: Our challenge is to get people to know about Vital Flight. Vital Flight works alongside other volunteer pilot organizations, such as Angel Flights of Georgia and Mercy Flight, which are older and bigger. Vital Flights needs to establish its own identity and continue to evolve and grow.
Q: Are there special events or programs coming up that you would like mentioned?
A: Each year, Vital Flight hosts an event called Special Day for Special Kids at the Boca Raton airport. The highlight of the event is when our pilots take to the skies for a scenic 30- to 45-minute flight up and down South Florida's beautiful beaches and coastline with children with a mental or physical disability and their families. To stay updated, go to our page on Facebook.
Q: What have you gained?
A: New friends, a whole lot of self-satisfaction and a great experience.
Q: Aside from money, what does your organization need?
A: Volunteers, either pilots or plain enthusiasts, who want make an impact on the lives of others specifically through our organization.
For more information, call 800-276-0300 or visit or
Originally posted to
South Florida SunSentinel.

Hospitals and Ancillary Agencies Get Assistance from Volunteer Pilots - On Call 24 Hours a Day

Hospitals and Ancillary Agencies Get Assistance From Volunteer Pilots – On Call 24 Hours a Day
110715 S Fl Hospital News C
By Charles Felix
Volunteer Pilot Organizations, VPO’s, have been around for more than 25 years, starting on the West Coast of the U.S. and have expanded and now link with over 100 non-profit organizations in a network called Air Care Alliance ( They all have one mission, to assist with “free” transportation for those who are ambulatory and need medical or humanitarian care.
One of these groups based in South Florida is Vital Flight, consisting of a highly skilled and trained group of instrument rated pilots with many years of experience who volunteer their own time, their aircraft and all costs associated with the flight, including fuel, to remove transportation as an obstacle for those in need of humanitarian or medical care.

Recently, one of these flights involved a veteran, Lester, who signed up for a six week blind rehabilitation program in West Palm Beach, Florida. From the Fort Myers area, Lester was returning from his rehabilitation program and, at 90 years young, mentioned that he landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy in the infantry and marched to within 50 miles of Berlin. I personally was able to fly as a Mission Assistant with Vital Flight and experienced firsthand how professionally these pilots handle their passengers to ensure their safe travel.
“The flight was smooth and the handling by radar controllers on the ground and at the airports under a ‘Compassion Flight’ name provides a higher level of handling than the normal flight by an aircraft,” said Vital Flight’s Tom Powers. The veteran, Lester, really had a fond memory of the flight to and from his rehab program, even though he could only experience the sensations of flight due to his visual impairment.
Vital Flight pilots can be called at the last minute, when an emergency or “special medical need” transport is required. An occasion occurred several weeks ago, when a call went out regarding a patient waiting for transplant surgery for over a year who heard that two donor lungs would become available that night.
With only a 4-5 hour window to get the patient to his appointed “double lung” transplant surgery, these Vital Flight pilots took action and safely shepherded the patient and his wife from Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa in the middle of the night.
“Most of the time we never hear about the outcome of the surgery,” Tom Powers, Founder and Chairman of Vital Flight said. “But we heard after a few days that the surgery was a success.” That gives Vital Flight special pride that both its pilots, Allan Weltman and Tom Powers, were able to “save a life” that night.
Transporting patients and loved ones can be extremely satisfying for the pilot. This service is provided at no charge and is available to those of any age who are ambulatory and have financial need and a medical release. When longer flights are required out of state, transport is coordinated with other Air Care Alliance agencies, so that the passengers can be accommodated.
Vital Flight also actively tries to give back to the community. This ALL Volunteer organization recently flew over 150 special needs children and their families at a Special Kids Day in Boca Raton. The joy of flight and a day at the airport relieved families of the continuous care of their children and gave the kids a day to remember. There are plans already in the works for another Special Kids Day in early 2012.
Originally published: South Florida Hospital News, July 2011