In times of crisis, great or small, they're almost always the first to answer the call for help.
It might be a medevac helicopter at the scene of a serious accident, or a small plane bringing needed supplies to remote towns in Alaska ravaged by an earthquake; or, after hurricane Charley destroyed dozens of communities in Central Florida, a fleet of volunteers flying their own planes filled with food, water...and hope.
It's the aircraft, the airports, the pilots of GA - General Aviation - that are usually the first in and often the last out during times of emergency.
Today, in Southeast Asia, GA is providing desperately needed assistance. In the days immediately following the tsunamis, when all communications were wiped out, GA helicopters surveyed the aftermath, providing critical damage information in order to direct help where it was most needed.
GA airplanes are now transporting the decision-makers, supplies and medical personnel into remote areas that the larger airline- or military-sized transports can't reach. And leading the way is Air Serv International, a US-based international humanitarian organization that specializes in making the impossible happen - every day.
Like millions around the globe, members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association asked in the wake of the Christmas weekend disaster, "How can I help?" Many wanted to travel to the region and offer their piloting skills.
"There is no single, simple answer," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But everyone we talked to said financial donations to established aid organizations would be the most helpful. And we believe that Air Serv is an organization that we can all feel good about supporting.
"Air Serv provides aviation services to the international humanitarian community in the midst of the most desperate crisis situations in the world. They are an outstanding example of what GA can do to serve people wherever and whenever there is need."
Air Serv International was born in 1984, as much of Africa slid into a period of great crisis, highlighted by the Ethiopian famine that prompted the now-famous Live Aid concert. Since then, Air Serv has expanded operations and, in addition to their current operations in Southeast Asia, operate in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Haiti.
Air Serv does not provide direct aid to the victims of crisis. Instead, it provides air support and transportation to aid providers such as the United Nations, CARE, and the International Red Cross. Agencies such as those know that it's vital to be able to travel deep into the affected areas. Air Serv gives them that ability, especially when distances or conditions prevent safe ground transportation.
Once AOPA determined that donations to Air Serv might serve as a good way for members to support both tsunami relief and general aviation and called on them to consider donating, the association established a $25,000 Tsunami Relief matching fund to increase the effectiveness of member donations. Within three days, members had matched the AOPA fund, and continue to keep on giving - more than $40,000 in the first week alone.
"We are, with the support of AOPA, making a difference!" said Stuart Willcuts, CEO and president of Air Serv International. According to Air Serv, $25 provides food and lodging for a pilot operating away from home base; $75 buys enough fuel to carry a ton of supplies 150 miles; $1,000 buys enough spare parts to keep an Air Serv aircraft, which fly in very rough conditions, operating for a month.
Air Serv International is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Donations are 100% tax-deductible. To learn more about contributing, visit their Web site and click on the "Give A Gift" link.
January 26, 2005