Air-Lifting Those In Need

Volunteers load supplies on a private aircraft bound for the Florida Keys as part of a Hurricane Irma relief effort.

When hurricanes leveled swaths of the Texas Gulf Coast, the Florida Keys and the Caribbean this September, among the first responders were fleets of business aircraft mobilized by a network of charitable organizations and operated by companies and employees who donate airplanes and time for humanitarian missions throughout the year. “With Harvey, then Irma, and now Maria, it’s been 19 days in a row we’re flying in the most imminently needed supplies,” says Eileen Minogue, executive director of Patient Airlift Services (PALS), one of the nonprofits.

PALS primarily arranges private aircraft transporation for medical patients, but they mobilize whenever and wherever the business aviation community is needed. The NBAA maintains a Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator (HERO) database of companies and individuals ready to help. Throughout the year, business aviation
provides the service backbone for a wide range of needs. Cessna Aircraft, for example, coordinates lifts from some 200 of its aircraft owners to transport athletes for the quadrennial Special Olympics.

“It’s a great example of corporate social responsibility,” says Gina Russo, executive director of the Corporate Angel Network (CAN). CAN has arranged more than 50,000 flights for cancer patients of all ages, facilitated by its 500 corporate members—including more than half of Fortune 100 companies—who donate the aircraft usage and/or flight hours through fractional shares.

Many community members donate not only aircraft and time, but money as well. For example, the Veterans Airlift Command, which transports current and veteran
service members for medical and other compassionate purposes, receives nearly all of its financial support from “those who already volunteer”—in other words, 2,500 members of the business aviation community, says Jen Salvati, executive director of the organization. “We have some amazing Americans who know no boundaries when it comes to giving back to those who’ve defended our freedom.”

Helicopter operator AAG transports PALS patients for important, last-mile travel aboard its Sikorskys, and Scott Ashton, the company’s president, also devotes his
downtime to pitching in. On days off, Ashton carries PALS patients on longer haul flights aboard his Cessna 172. “These programs,” he says, “make a huge difference in people’s lives at a time when they desperately need it.”

Read more: Corporate Aircraft: Tools For Competitive Advantage, Not Toys

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James Wynbrandt is a pilot and aviation expert, author of Flying High and a contributor to Air & Space and Business Jet Traveler, among others.

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