Fifteen years ago while renting an airplane at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, entrepreneur Alan M. Dias came across a circular for Angel Flight West. The Santa Monica non-profit provides free air transportation on private aircraft for non-emergency health care issues.

Thinking that it would be an opportunity for him to give back to the community while indulging his favorite pastime, Dias filled out an application form to become a volunteer pilot. Since then, he has split his time among his real estate and other business ventures, and flying missions for the non-profit.

Recently, Dias, 64, was named the organization's executive director. In his new position, he is in charge of community outreach to find patrons, pilots and patients for Angel Flight West. But Dias has not hung up his wings; he still makes time to fly missions. Every year, Angel Flight West flies 4,500 missions in 12 western states and Hawaii.

One of the most memorable missions for Dias was helping a 3-year-old girl in Utah. A few years ago, the child was diagnosed with eye cancer, and she needed to get from Salt Lake City to Santa Monica regularly to get her checkups and treatments. Dias piloted the young patient back and forth.

"Most likely she wouldn't be with us today if it weren't Angel Flight," Dias said. "Each mission impacts somebody's life."

His main challenge today is promoting the organization.

"We have to work smarter and harder to communicate our mission to a wider public so that we can continue to help the people in need," Dias said.

The slow economy has added to the challenges of operating the non-profit, as has the rise in fuel costs. While the fuel expense has decreased in recent weeks, the price of airplane fuel has not declined as much as automobile gas.

But despite the challenges, Dias believes that he has one of the most exciting and rewarding positions one where he can use his aviation hobby to help people.

"It's the perfect coming together of passion and compassion," he said.

Dias lives in La Ca & #324;ada Flintridge with his wife, Jennie. In his free time, aside from his flying hobby, he likes to spend time with his married daughter and newborn granddaughter.

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