What sparked your interest in aviation?
I fell in love with aviation from a very early age. Growing up, I lived next to Newcastle airport in the northeast of England. Every aircraft took off over our house and I was just fascinated by them all. I secured my private pilot's licence when I was 17 years old, and have thoroughly enjoyed the endless sense of freedom that flying gives me.
Why did you launch Sight2Save?
A few years ago, I learned that a staggering 2.5 billion people within developing countries needed a pair of spectacles. This is a hidden global health crisis. It can easily be addressed by issuing pairs of used glasses, which will enable people to see at school or work, then get a job, help their family get out of poverty and contribute to the local economy. It all begins with vision. I launched Sight2Save in 2016 and began using the power of flight to save sight worldwide.
What role does aviation play in your charity?
We began by chartering small aircraft like Cessna 172 Skyhawk piston-singles, as well as Caravan and Beechcraft King Air B200 turboprops to transport spectacles and opticians to remote regions around the world. We also used logistics companies such as FedEx, DHL and UPS to fly dozens of boxes of glasses, optical and sight-saving equipment to these areas.
While this was a good starting point for our non-profit company, we found that working in damp, dark, humid and overcrowded sports halls and schools is far from ideal. Several of our opticians felt that a flying-eye optician, with state-of-the-art equipment and well-lit surroundings, would enable them to help save sight in greater numbers. Sight2Save is currently in advanced talks with several aircraft owners who have expressed an interest in donating their aircraft for these missions. We are also working with a US maintenance, repair and overhaul company that has a supplemental type certification for a specialist ophthalmic interior.
These bespoke aircraft would travel worldwide, spending three weeks at each destination. Once there, Sight2Save will perform sight-saving operations, provide eye tests and spectacles to those in need, and help lay the foundations for a good-quality, accessible eyecare service in each area.
How do you recruit pilots, opticians and support staff?
By word of mouth, getting ourselves noticed and networking at various events worldwide. We like to work with people who share our vision, and who genuinely want to make a difference to those living with a visual impairment worldwide. We also like to recruit entrepreneurially minded staff who can think outside the box and are not afraid to contribute ideas and suggestions towards our plans at Sight2Save.
As these are voluntary posts, can it be difficult to attract personnel?
Yes, but I have been amazed by the support we have received from both the aviation and optical industries. From retired aviation professionals to pilots saying they have too much time on their hands and would like to be involved, I have been touched by their kindness. We make sure all our staff are happy, and the Sight2Save work is not a burden on them and their time.
It must be an expensive operation to run. How do you fund it?
At present, we are funded through corporate sponsors and donations from Sight2Save sponsors.
What challenges do you face?
Getting the message across about the work we do worldwide. We are not well known yet, so it is essential we build on our credibility, and increase awareness of the Sight2Save and get more individuals and companies involved in supporting out work.
Raising funds to support our flight operations and making sure we can afford to cover the cost of our life-changing, sight-saving work worldwide is also a challenge. But what keeps me going is the thought of having an eye problem here in the UK and not being able to go anywhere to get it treated by an optician. This is the case in developing countries. It frustrates me how in 2018, so many people live with vision impairment or avoidable blindness. We can play our part in helping to eradicate this health crisis.