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World recognizes humanitarian airlift potential of GA

Using general aviation aircraft in humanitarian relief efforts is a longstanding and well-received practice in the United States. Many other nations are now also realizing the value of GA to help move medical supplies and personnel during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Pilots and other volunteers supporting critical supply missions have dedicated their time and aircraft around the world. Captains Mark Mizrachi and Omar Bonilla (far left), both AOPA Panama members, stand with members of the Panamanian police force, the governor of Bocas del Toro Province, and AOPA Panama leadership as they prepare to ferry government personnel from Changuinola to Pedro Gonzalez Island. Image courtesy of AOPA Panama.
  • Medical supplies are assembled in advance of a humanitarian airlift at Marcos A. Gelabert International Airport in Panama. The cargo was loaded by volunteers and flown to Pedro Gonzalez Island. Image courtesy of AOPA Panama.
  • Over 12,000 pounds of food, water, and medicines have been transported to remote parts of Panama via general aviation aircraft. A large team of volunteers turned out to help AOPA Panama relief mission efforts, such as these volunteers unloading a Beechcraft BE35 at Fernando Eleta Airport on Pedro Gonzalez Island. Image courtesy of AOPA Panama.
  • Mission complete: The crew of volunteers and pilots who helped ferry much-needed resources to a Panamanian island celebrate their success. Image courtesy of AOPA Panama.

“GA is being warmly received for the first time in many of these nations,” said Craig Spence, secretary general of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA). He also noted that the outpouring of volunteers supporting humanitarian missions in these nations has been “fantastic.”

Airlines worldwide have seen a drastic decline in passengers and have been forced to cancel the majority of flights. The result has been a gap in transportation capabilities in certain areas that typically depend on those commercial operators to move critical supplies and personnel.

Pilots have volunteered to fly their GA aircraft to deliver medical equipment and personnel responding to the crisis in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Panama, South Africa, and many other countries.

Truckloads of supplies have been carried by general aviation pilots to remote airfields throughout the world during the COVID-19 crisis. On Pedro Gonzalez Island in Panama, volunteers unload a Piper Saratoga that brought food for distribution to the local community. Image courtesy of AOPA Panama.

“Here in Panama, we have been working hand-in-hand with the Panamanian government to help the different communities which have been affected by the coronavirus,” said Jaime Fabrega, vice president of IAOPA Central and South American region, and board member of AOPA Panama. In recent weeks, members of AOPA Panama have flown 20 hours of missions carrying government personnel, medicine, food, and water. The GA aircraft utilized have carried over 12,000 pounds of supplies, and more missions are planned by the end of April.

In France, a cooperative initiative between Aviation Without Borders and AOPA France is flying more than 15 missions per day throughout Europe.

“It shows how the whole of general aviation has rallied to allow for transportation of medical personnel that need to go from one place to another in Europe,” said Emmanuel Davidson, president of AOPA France. He said the types of aircraft used range “from Falcons operated by Dassault, TBMs from Daher, PC12s from Jetfly, to more than 500 pilots and owners that have volunteered their time and aircraft for free. Even aircraft such as C182, C206, Bonanzas and Barons are put into service for these missions.”

IAOPA has offered resources to affiliate organizations to assist them in developing guidelines for safe and efficient humanitarian airlift flights, establishing aircraft maintenance protocols during operational shutdowns, and making requests to government agencies for regulatory relief.

IAOPA represents the interests of AOPA affiliates in 82 countries around the world, comprising more than 400,000 pilots who fly GA aircraft for personal or business needs. The council was formed in 1962 to provide a voice for GA in world aviation forums. GA encompasses four-fifths of all civil aircraft and two-thirds of all pilots worldwide.

Chris Eads, AOPA Senior Director, Outreach and Events. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Chris Eads

AOPA Senior Director, Outreach and Events
Chris began working for AOPA in 2013, but has been a private pilot and AOPA member since 2001. He flies VFR all over the country both for fun and as a part of his role leading AOPA events and regional fly-ins.
Topics: IAOPA, Public Benefit Flying, COVID19

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