Learn, play, serve GA-style

Bahamas Habitat offers mission opportunity for pilots

October 13, 2011

The rebuilding effort continues on Cat Island of the Bahamas, after Category 3 Hurricane Irene decimated many houses on the island in August. Bahamas Habitat is offering pilots a way to help with the rebuilding while gaining flight training and a little play time all in one weekend.

Two weekends every year, Bahamas Habitat offers training flights and services projects for mission-minded pilots.

Cameron King, Bahamas Habitat Aviation and Disaster Response Coordinator, teaches pilots how to fly internationally, file Customs and Border Protection's Electronic Advance Passenger Information System manifest, fly overwater, and clear customs in the Bahamas.

Pilots can add up five hours of international, overwater flying during the Fly-In & Help Out weekend.

When pilots aren't busy repairing roofs or painting an orphanage, they'll have the option of island hopping.

During an island-hopping excursion, pilots might fly into Exuma International Airport.

Pilots can fly their own aircraft or get instruction in the Bahamas Habitat Baron or Aztec.

Hurricane Irene tore off shingles, sections of roofs, and entire roofs. Pilots will help repair roofs during the Fly-In & Help Out weekend Oct. 20 through 23.

Pilots will clear customs at Governor's Harbour, where just a few months earlier Hurricane Irene ripped an Aztec from its tiedowns.

Flying internationally can be nerve-wracking the first time around, but pilots can experience it in a relaxed setting during a Fly-In & Help Out weekend at Governor's Harbour.

Cat Island was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Irene in August. Bahamas Habitat continues to fly relief supplies to the island to help repair roofs.

Bahamas Methodist Habitat, a partner organization to Bahamas Habitat, organizes the service projects for pilots on the ground.

Volunteers who help once often return to play repeat roles with Bahamas Habitat. Pilots work hand-in-hand with other volunteers and local Bahamians.

Parts of the Bahamas will be cleaning up for a long time after Category 3 Hurricane Irene.

Catherine Ahles got involved with Bahamas Habitat during a Fly-In & Help Out weekend and later stepped up to buy relief supplies after Hurricane Irene struck the islands.

One of the perks of volunteering to fly to the Bahamas? The view. Just take a look at the water.

Cupid's Cay on Eleuthera Island was hit hard, with many houses sustaining roof and flooding damage.

Bahamas Methodist Habitat's Camp Symonette is often the base for Fly-In & Help Out weekends.

The nonprofit organization’s semiannual Fly-In & Help Out event is set for Oct. 20 through 23. (Another will take place in the spring.) Bahamas Habitat will train pilots how to fly internationally and fill out and submit the required Customs and Border Protection Electronic Advance Passenger Information System manifest. In addition, pilots will learn overwater flying and survival and how to clear customs in the Bahamas. The group will fly from St. Lucie County International Airport in Fort Pierce, Fla., to Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera Island to clear customs and work for the weekend with partner organization Bahamas Methodist Habitat. Pilots who can’t provide their own aircraft or want to build multiengine time can fly with a Bahamas Habitat instructor in a Baron or Aztec to log five hours of instructional time. Excluding the training time in the Baron or Aztec, the cost is a $300 tax-deductible donation, which covers food, lodging, ground transportation, and project fees once the group is on the island.

“Every trip pilots join the Fly-In and Help Out event and have an adventure while making a difference. What makes this mission opportunity unique for aircraft owners is the Bahamas are easily accessible by aircraft and after Hurricane Irene there are many needs we can fill,” said Bahamas Habitat President John Armstrong.

On this trip, pilots will help paint the Zion Children’s Home and build roofs on houses that were damaged by the hurricane, said Bahamas Habitat Aviation and Disaster Response Coordinator Cameron King. More than 200 children throughout the Bahamas Islands are displaced, according to King.

Abraham McIntyre, executive director of Bahamas Methodist Habitat, leads the work projects. Once the volunteers land at Governor’s Harbour and clear customs, Bahamas Methodist Habitat loads the pilots onto a bus, along with the supplies they’ve brought, to take them to their base camp for the weekend. Thursday evenings include a time of fellowship, he said, while Friday and Saturday morning are dedicated to building projects.

Play time begins Saturday afternoon. Pilots often go to the beach to relax or island hop after becoming comfortable with operations in the Bahamas and flying over water. Bahamas Methodist Habitat hosts a ceremony that evening.

While the results of the weekend are immediate for all involved—from logged flight training to progress on work projects—the mission fulfilled is broader. Trips have proven eye opening for participants.

Catherine Ahles, vice president of marketing and business development for Premier Aircraft Sales in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., participated in one weekend event with her daughter who was 16 at the time. Ahles said the service aspect was important for her daughter, now a freshman in college, who had grown up comfortably in South Florida. During the trip, her daughter saw the needs and living conditions of some on Eleuthera Island and helped lay a tile floor—including running a tile cutter and putting down grout. The house that they and other volunteer pilots helped to build survived Hurricane Irene without damage. Ahles’ daughter later recruited some of her friends to help with a summer camp on the island.

Ahles has stayed involved over the years as well. After Hurricane Irene struck the Bahamas, she donated and helped buy food, water, and building materials for pilots to deliver to the islands. (See “ Flight for survival.”)

In addition, the event builds a volunteer base for Bahamas Habitat, which was created to help support Bahamas Methodist Habitat. “They are prepared when there is a disaster,” McIntyre said, explaining that many pilots involved in a weekend project often return to help Bahamas Habitat. The overwater, international, and customs training received through this relaxed setting helps boost their confidence to fly missions in the event of a disaster.