FUN FLIGHT DAY | Flights of fun put thrilling smiles on these kids' faces

The sun was shining and the weather was ideal for flying last Sunday on Fun Flight Day at Bankstown Airport

The event, hosted by Sydney Flight Club, gave disadvantaged children and their families a chance to fly in light planes for the thrill of it.

Sydney Flight College chief marketing officer Kevin Joseph said they work with Fun Flight each year.

“We aim to bring happiness to the hearts of children and families who are terminally ill or who have hardship. On the day the children and their parents or carers will take them for a spin in the plane. Some will be able to hold onto the controls and they’ll have fun,” he said.

“For many of the children, it will be their first time flying and it’s just beautiful to witness some of the expressions on their faces – some scream with joy when they’re up in the air.”

On the day there was also a sausage sizzle, facepainting, a jumping castle and exotic cars lined up ready to take families for a spin.

Meanwhile, Sydney Flight Club, Sydney Flight College and other companies and individuals volunteered their time on the day, including the pilots.

Plumpton lad James Panoncillio,11, and his father Teodoro Panoncillio, were among the families who enjoyed a 30-minute joy ride in a 2003 Cirrus SR20 four-seater plane.

James is diagnosed with autism, making him sensitive to noise and crowds.

And while he appeared nervous before hopping into the plane once he was up in the air he screamed, clapped, laughed and couldn’t stop smiling.

The plane flew over Camden, Campbelltown, Penrith, the Blue Mountains, Liverpool and Warwick Farm.

It was James’ mother, Gladyss Panoncillio, who convinced her family to come on the day. However, she and her daughter Faith flew in another aircraft due to limited seating capacity.

“My background is as a registered nurse and I work as a carer so I understand the importance of today and what it means for children like James. Today was a great experience for the whole family and for James to take the challenge,” she said.

Mrs Panoncillio recently got an Individual Carers Award for her work in establishing the non-profit organisation Rooty Hill Multicultural Carers Support Group.

“My children and family have inspired my work without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. I think James was really happy – my husband showed me some photos of him and he was smiling, which was great to see. James gets anxious and overwhelmed easily. He was diagnosed with autism at just 2. 

“Being a parent of a child with autism has its challenges – such as getting him to events like this but we were prepared and even brought him noise-cancelling ear muffs for his sensitivity. I feel we have to do these activities for him so he’ll get the experience and, hopefully, in time overcome it.

“He’s currently getting therapy and intervention, we’re trying our best for him. It’ll be challenging and take a lot of hard work to help him but he’s a good boy – he just needs extra support and love.”

Mr Panoncillio thanked the pilot David Roberts for an unforgettable experience.

“It was my first time flying in such a small aircraft. I was a bit nervous at first but we had a great time. It was James’ first time flying. I take a day off work each month to spend time with James. Today was a bonus.”

The pilot, Mr Roberts was happy to hear James’ positive response in the back as he concentrated on flying. 

“I really like to hear when my passengers are happy in the back. That’s why we pilots come out here to do this, to help make disadvantaged children happy. It was my third flight for the day and there’ll be more to come,” he said.

Mr Roberts works as a barrister full time but owns and flies aircraft in his spare time just for the joy of it.

Sydney Flight Club boss Joseph Pilo said the day was a success.

“It’s been fantastic and there’s been lots of smiling on children's faces. It gone smoothly and has been a great success,” he said.

“We kicked off at 9.30am and our last flight is booked to finish at 5.30pm. We’ve had 220 passengers registered.

“The highlight today has been helping the community. We’ve done Fun Flight Day in the past but this has been one of the biggest events for us. Fun Flight is the charity and they arrange the people to come here on the day.”