When people think of aviation, they think of commercial flights, business activity, and cargo. But most people don’t think of medical care.
Yet, in my world of public benefit flying, every time I see a small aircraft buzzing by overhead, I think of a patient or an organ or blood supply getting to a community in need.
Public benefit flights are donated by volunteer pilots who give their time and use of their general aviation craft to those in need. For example, I have had the privilege and joy of flying for Angel Flight and Flights for Life for six years.
Angel Flight works to connect volunteer pilots with patients who need assistance reaching medical care. Next to the direct cost of treatments, travel is the greatest expense for a patient.
Many patients and their families face an uphill battle if they cannot receive the care they need close to home and must continually return to the same hospital.
That’s where Angel Flight steps in: a general aviation pilot volunteers their aircraft to fly patients to their appointments for free. Because they can fly into smaller local airports and with greater flexibility in scheduling, general aviation helps alleviate the stress of a long road trip or a commercial flight.
We also work with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department to help connect advocates with the children in their care.
If a child in the foster system needs more support, they are assigned a court-appointed special advocate. These advocates need to regularly meet with their charges.
Using public benefit flying allows the advocates to develop better relationships with the children, be more aware of their living situation, and be more responsive to the child’s needs. For the advocates, flying saves them hours on the road and gives them more time to see more children.
In addition, United Blood Services partners with Flights for Life in New Mexico to help rural areas run drives and transport blood.
In a smaller town, it can be hard to find a volunteer who is able to drive over eight hours round trip in a single day. But with my plane, I was able to get 10 boxes of blood from Farmington to the processing bank in Albuquerque and back in 1.5 hours.
These are just a few examples. General aviation helps businesses to transport personnel and tools; it supports farmers and ranchers to maintain and survey their crops and cattle, and it facilitates disaster relief in times of crisis.
It is an integral part of a public infrastructure that makes sure that we connect rural and urban areas alike.
It is why our public transportation system must remain that way, overseen by Congress to ensure that these community needs do not come in second to profit-driven priorities of our largest commercial airlines.
That is why I oppose a recent push to privatize air traffic control and hand authority over this system over to a private board dominated by the biggest airlines.
Our country is currently the largest and the most diverse in the world, supporting many different forms of flying that support charitable, humanitarian and rural community needs. Let’s make sure to keep it that way.
Art Tangen, a wing leader for Angel Flight West and Angel Flight South Central, has flown 100 Angel Flight charity missions and is a board member of the New Mexico Aviation Aerospace Association.