It’s something that all pilots should embrace, but especially those who fly for charity. Offering your aircraft to transport people in need of medical attention, moving animals to new homes, carrying wounded and aging veterans, or conducting environmental assessment flights is a higher calling and one that we heartily endorse.
It happens all over the country with little fanfare. The vast majority of the time everything works as it should, but occasionally there will be a mishap or worse, a fatal accident. In the summer of 2008, there were three bad accidents involving charity transports (Boston, Iowa City, and Tampa) which led the NTSB and FAA to look more closely at the activity. The Air Safety Institute moved quickly to assist the groups, working in conjunction with an umbrella organization known as the Air Care Alliance. It represents many different charitable flight activities, and a joint effort in funding allowed the creation of a special online course for volunteer pilots.
The Institute designed some safety management guidelines for pilots, weather conditions, and currency. It would be a bit of an overstatement to say that there was unanimous agreement on what those guidelines should be, or that one set would be appropriate for all flight operations or circumstances.
For example, the Air Safety Institute recommends fuel reserves of at least one hour. VFR flight minimums should be no less than 2,000’ ceiling and five miles visibility—higher in mountainous terrain. How about crosswinds? The arbitrary call was 75% of the demonstrated component. However, that might be tempered by pilot experience and currency. An active ATP, familiar with the aircraft, might be quite capable of handling crosswinds up to the demonstrated maximum. A relatively new private pilot should be more conservative.
An annual flight review was recommended with more stringent IFR currency. Part 91 served as the starting point, but we felt that since the charitable clients would not be knowledgeable about the nature of their pilot or the trip, a somewhat higher standard of care might be applied. These recommendations serve as guidelines, not hard and fast rules. The safety officers of each organization should apply appropriate wisdom. Charitable good works by GA are held in the highest regard, and we pilots have an obligation to take commensurate care. As with doctors, humanitarian pilots should also take the Hippocratic Oath.
Charitable good works for GA can also be as simple as donating to a good cause. The AOPA Foundation is dedicated to promoting GA and its varied uses, but we need your help. Consider a donation today.