The images and statistics from the Southeast Asian tsunami have been overwhelming. As the scope of this tragedy continues to grow, pilots are among the millions of Americans asking the same question: What can I do to assist the relief effort? The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has received an ever-increasing number of e-mails and phone calls from members asking for guidance on this subject, some even suggesting they volunteer to go to Southeast Asia to fly in the relief effort.
After consultation with numerous aid agencies, AOPA has determined that, for now, pilots can best help by supporting the efforts with cash donations.
Consistent with its aviation mission, AOPA has identified an international, nonprofit humanitarian organization that has been using a fleet of GA aircraft for more than 20 years to bring badly needed logistic support, food, supplies - and hope - to millions of people in some of the harshest environments in the world. Its staff is currently deployed in some of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami.
Air Serv International is listed as an approved agency by the USA Freedom Corps, the organization identified in public service announcements featuring former Presidents Bush and Clinton. Air Serv has historically been funded by a combination of government grants and tax-deductible private donations.
"Air Serv International is in the midst of assisting in this disaster," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Theirs and other aviation efforts are a remarkable example of how GA airplanes and airports serve as a vital emergency link for people throughout the world."
AOPA has established the AOPA Tsunami Fund, a restricted fund dedicated to the tsunami relief effort, with Air Serv International. "To stretch our limited member resources, the association pledges up to $25,000 to match member contributions in this time of worldwide support for the millions of tsunami victims," Boyer stated. "This means every dollar from an AOPA member will be matched by the association, up to our $25,000 pledge."
Members who wish to contribute to this aviation charity using the Internet can go to www.airserv.org/giveagift.html to make their tax-deductible donations. Members and others may also pay by check. The check should be made out to "Air Serv International" and mailed to: 6583 Merchant Place, Suite 100, Warrenton, VA 20187. Please be sure to write your AOPA membership number (or simply "AOPA" for non-members) on the check but do not send your check to AOPA as we cannot accept it.
Air Serv provides aviation services to the international humanitarian community and direct aid during the most desperate crisis situations in the world. It is an outstanding example of what GA can do to serve people wherever and whenever they are in need. "What a lot of people don't realize," noted Boyer, "is that, in many disasters, the first responders are often GA aircraft and airports. Anyone who's been taken to a hospital in an air ambulance will never take GA for granted."
Leading the way for Air Serv is their international chief pilot, Kurt Neuenschwander ( AOPA 00738136). Neuenschwander originally joined AOPA in 1980. In the meantime he has logged thousands of hours for Air Serv, flying in the left seat of almost every plane in their fleet, usually to some of the most hostile environments in the world. "It's the ultimate flight school," he noted.
In speaking earlier this week with Air Serv CEO Stuart Willcuts, Boyer learned that Air Serv was one of the first organizations on site after the devastation of the tsunami. Calling from Sri Lanka, one of two theaters of operation for Air Serv, Willcuts described how Air Serv has been transporting top government and humanitarian agency personnel from USAID, World Vision, Save the Children, and Care. "These are the people that get the infrastructure back up and running," Willcuts explained. "Food, water, medicine, sanitation - every effort begins with the basics."
"Remember," Boyer emphasized, "our government has ruled that any tsunami-specific donation made before January 31 of this year can be applied to your 2004 taxes. I know, personally, this gave me extra incentive to donate beyond my initial December gift as this tragedy further unfolds. Plus, AOPA will be matching all member donations up to $25,000." In keeping with Air Serv policy and AOPA's request, members' names and personal information will not be used by Air Serv or given to any third party.
Regular updates on donations as well as photos and stories from Air Serv will appear on AOPA Online.
With more than 403,000 members, representing nearly two thirds of all pilots in the United States, AOPA is the largest, most influential aviation association in the world. AOPA has achieved its prominent position through effective advocacy, enlightened leadership, technical competence, and hard work. Providing member services that range from representation at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, advice, and other assistance, AOPA has built a service organization that far exceeds any other in the aviation community.
January 18, 2005