This year, small airplanes made national news after they were stolen and taken for joy rides, or when they flew into restricted airspace and caused the evacuation of government buildings in Washington, D.C. Today, hundreds of small planes are providing critical roles in the ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and general aviation (GA) pilots nationwide, are making valuable contributions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since the storm struck the Gulf Coast of the United States more than one week ago, GA pilots have been voluntarily flying supplies into the devastated region and evacuating people to safe locations.
"Hundreds of individual pilots have contacted AOPA and government officials asking how they can help," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Coordination is absolutely critical to make the most effective use of resources and not interfere with the government's relief efforts in the disaster area. AOPA is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the officials have pledged to let us know when and how GA pilots can help. AOPA has been and will continue to pass that information on to pilots."
Agencies such as Angel Flight America, Air Care Alliance, and Civil Air Patrol are among the most visible GA organizations currently helping to coordinate and execute these flights in the devastated region. GA includes all flight activity except the airlines and scheduled air carrier service. Law enforcement, search and rescue, and evacuation flights participating in the relief efforts are mostly being conducted by GA.
"Angel Flight America is flying 70 to 80 missions a day, primarily to evacuate people to safer locations," said Ed Boyer, chairman of Angel Flight America. "We're fully integrated with FEMA, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and Mennonite Disaster Services, flying legitimate relief missions at their requests."
Angel Flight America wants to raise $2 million to help cover costs for Katrina disaster relief and is accepting donations to cover fuel costs for their aircraft. Many of Angel Flight's missions - flown by more than 6,200 volunteer pilots - are to smaller communities along the Gulf Coast that are still inaccessible to large-scale operations.
For example, Angel Flight Georgia responded to a request from the local sheriff for relief supplies for Poplarville, Mississippi. They flew donated supplies to an airport near Poplarville that had a serviceable runway but no other services. These life-saving missions are possible because of local GA airports that are performing a critical role as landing facilities and staging areas for this coordinated disaster relief.
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) has been flying search and rescue missions in the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. CAP has nearly 64 years of experience providing important search and rescue support for a wide variety of needs.
Aviation businesses are providing help as well. For example, Jetscape Services, an FBO at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, is donating five cents to the Red Cross for every gallon of fuel it sells and is also offering $1 per gallon discount on fuel purchases by relief aircraft.
AOPA's Boyer has urged his membership of GA pilots and aircraft owners to make monetary donations, if they are not already donating their time and piloting skills.
"What we can all do - now - to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina is donate money to relief agencies," said AOPA's Boyer. "They can use this money to meet the immediate needs of those in the critically affected areas." The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has compiled a list of nearly 20 relief organizations to which you can donate money or sign up to volunteer. For more information, visit www.aopa.org or www.fema.gov.
The more than 406,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has represented the interests of general aviation pilots since 1939. General aviation includes all flying except the scheduled airlines and the military. Nearly two thirds of all U.S. pilots, and three quarters of the GA pilots, are AOPA members.
September 9, 2005