business aviation: a lifeline to people and communities in crisis

June 11, 2020

Air services have always played an essential role in assisting people in times of disasters. And now in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, the aviation sector is showing the world how it is a force for good. Nick Klenske brings you inspiring stories from humanitarian organizations


Sure, EBACE 2020 may be cancelled, but that doesn’t mean Business Aviation is!

The silver lining of this horrible disease is that it’s bringing the best out of people. Around the world we are volunteering to help those in need, giving blood, and staying inside to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Aviation is also going above and beyond. From the New England Patriots using their team’s jet to transport much needed medical supplies to airlines helping repatriate stranded citizens, the aviation sector is showing the world how it is a force for good.

Of course, this isn’t news for Business Aviation, which has long put philanthropy and service at the forefront. Whether it be the NBAA’s sponsorship of the Corporate Angels Network or individual aircraft owners donating their jets for disaster relief, Business Aviation has always been a leader in humanitarian response. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, Business Aviation has once again jumped into action.

“Business Aviation has long served as a lifeline to people and communities in crisis,” says NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “That’s because business aircraft can reach locations impacted by natural disasters when airliners and sometimes even automobiles cannot.”

Bolen also notes that because business aircraft can operate on short notice into outlying airports with small runways, and sometimes unpaved airstrips, or even onto roads – they are uniquely suited to providing a first response to natural disasters and other emergencies.

In support of these humanitarian efforts, the NBAA maintains a Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator (HERO) Database – a list of people in the Business Aviation community who are part of disaster-response mobilization efforts. In the aftermath of major crises, basic information from the database is provided to organizations coordinating relief efforts.

The NBAA also offers the Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership in recognition of the spirit of service demonstrated by humanitarian leaders within the Business Aviation community. Created in 2006, past recipients include Sean Tucker and the Bob Hoover Academy, Harrison Ford, FedEx Express, the Corporate Angels Network, Cessna and the Veterans Airlift Command, among others. The award is named after Albert L. Ueltschi, who was instrumental in developing an international non-profit organization dedicated to preventing blindness and saving sight.

At BART, we think it’s time we shared these amazing – and often inspiring – stories. So in lieu of what would typically be our EBACE roundup, here’s a look at how Business Aviation consistently goes the extra mile.


This NBAA-endorsed group of experienced aviation specialists coordinate emergency aviation response during disasters. By drawing on the resources of business and general aviation, the organization has the capability to respond to catastrophic disasters in a fluid and rapid manner.

“Our primary mission is to assist governments and NGOs by moving people and supplies to where they are most needed,” says AERObridge President Marianne Stevenson. “By matching aircraft with emergency response teams and critical supplies, we are able to provide a vital window of assistance to save lives and aid those in need.

To maintain a heightened state of readiness, AERObridge engages in International Humanitarian Aid projects that help transport needed donations directly to the poorest people in seven underdeveloped countries. “By continuing relationships with our aviation partners globally, we will create a working relationship that will achieve a faster disaster response should we need to activate it,” adds Stevenson.

Air Care Alliance

Air Care Alliance is a nonprofit public benefit umbrella group that lists and supports all known volunteer pilot and similar charitable GA groups. ACA lists and make referrals to more than 65 aviation relief organizations of various kinds. To maximize charitable aviation through organizations and pilots flying to serve the needs of humanity, the organizations promotes, supports, and represents public benefit flying.

Public benefit flying organizations utilize the unique capabilities of general aviation aircraft to lend a hand whenever rapid and safe air transportation is needed to make health care accessible, save lives or otherwise serve the public. “They and many other non-flying volunteers work to transport needy patients to facilities where they are able to receive the medical attention they might otherwise have to do without,” says an ACA spokesperson. “Many groups also play a significant role providing disaster and emergency relief, flying for environmental support or performing other community service missions.”

Air Charity Network 

Air Charity Network member organizations and their generous volunteers are on the front line every day of the year helping people in need access life-saving specialized medical care. The national network also arranges flights of compassion, including travel for military personnel and their immediate families, as well as flights of disaster response.

Combined, the Air Charity Network is the nation’s largest unified volunteer pilot organization comprised of thousands of pilots who annually fly tens of thousands of passengers nationwide. Passengers on these flights are never charged for the transportation arranged through the network. It is provided by volunteer pilots who receive no monetary compensation whatsoever for their time, talent, airplane, fuel and operating expenses.

“Our story of leveraging resources to meet needs on such a large scale is unique and compelling,” says an Air Charity Network spokesperson. “The network and its member organizations exist solely through donations from individuals, companies, organizations and foundations that cover the many expenses associated with matching passengers in need with charitable aviation resources.”

Air Charity Network Fast Facts

  • Air Charity Network (ACN) is the largest unified charitable air transportation organization in the world. It is the only charitable aviation organization in the United States offering linked access across all 50 states.
  • Air Charity Network regional flight coordination teams handle more than 40,000 requests for assistance annually.
  • 1/3 of Air Charity Network flights are for children and 2/3 for adults and senior citizens with hundreds of different illnesses, challenges and personal crises.
  • Each dollar donated generates more than $5 worth of flight services delivered to people in need who live in rural and urban communities across the nation.
  • Volunteer pilots who fly, and often own, general aviation airplanes “provide” the transportation by donating their time, talent, airplane, and fuel expenses.
  • Air Charity Network exists solely on donations from individuals, corporations, organizations, foundations and workplace giving campaigns.
  • Cash donations allow Air Charity Network to make life-saving connections by supporting volunteer pilots and serving people in need.
  • Disaster response . . . After 9/11, volunteer pilots were called upon to transport American Red Cross personnel, booties for rescue dogs, and many other people and supplies. In the midst of response to Hurricane Katrina, over 2,500 flights were flown through Air Charity Network to reunite families separated during the evacuation of flood-ravaged areas and to relocate families out of shelters to safe housing elsewhere.

Airlift Flyers Association (ALFA)

ALFA is a network of compassionate aviators aligned with nonprofit organizations working together to help the destitute beyond our shores. ALFA coordinates flight donations to benefit US charities delivering emergency aid, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and ongoing development programs abroad. “We merge diverse skills and precious talents with a passionate commitment to eradicate poverty, disease, hunger, ignorance and injustice,” says an organizational spokesperson.

ALFA arranges mission flights in a variety aircraft. The gifts of wings are made possible by gracious pilots and aircraft owners freely offering cargo space or empty seats whenever possible. Every flight is unique, yet all are life-transforming experiences. Missionaries team up with airlift flyers through ALFA to deploy safe, efficient and successful missions.

ALFA advocates public-service aviation and promotes awareness of rewarding opportunities for participation among all aviation communities. “Our volunteers take pride in the quality of service devoted to aircrew and missioners alike with great joy and personal satisfaction for every small accomplishment,” says the organization.

Air Serv International

Air Serv’s 35 year history of providing lifesaving access into the world’s most remote locations began in 1984 as a response to the famine in Ethiopia, when a group of dedicated aviation visionaries realized the power of aviation in expanding the reach of humanitarian relief and assistance. This disaster led to the founding mission of Air Serv International, created to provide safe and reliable air transport to humanitarian organizations operating in regions too difficult or dangerous to reach by land.

Over the past three decades, the organization has been active around the world. Loosely defining runways as paved or unpaved roads, dry riverbeds, or fields, Air Serv has safely and reliably increased the reach of humanitarian workers by providing aviation services, including the transportation of goods, services, and relief workers, flying medical evacuations, and repatriating displaced persons. Operating a fleet of Cessna Caravans, Air Serv flies where no one else will, reaching the most inaccessible places under the most extreme conditions. Air Serv airplanes are the bridge connecting lifesaving aid with those who need it most.

In 2019, the organization began transitioning into Air Serv Global for the purpose of continuing as well as broadening Air Serv’s mission. During three decades of service, Air Serv has been active throughout Africa and as a result, is a firsthand participant in the blossoming aviation industry there. “Our experience has afforded us an opportunity to recognize a need we can help meet by fostering, mentoring and training a new generation of pilots, engineers, dispatchers and all manner of aviation support,” says an Air Serv representative.

Encompassing both humanitarian response-focused Air Serv International and Uganda-based maintenance and operations facility Air Serv Limited, Air Serv Global is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated not only to humanitarian support, but also to every aspect of safety surrounding aviation in the locations in which they operate. In addition to continuing to provide emergency response charters and long-term program services, Air Serv Global is committed to improving the future of aviation in Africa through education and training.

Angel Flight

Angel Flight was created by a group of pilots who believe in the benefit of volunteering. “We strive to keep all aspects of the organization volunteer – we are a non-profit charitable organization of pilots, volunteers, and friends,” says founder Doug Vincent. “We will arrange free air transportation for any legitimate, charitable, medically related need.”

The service is available to individuals and health care organizations. Angel Flight will also arrange transportation of those people who are financially distressed, or who are in a time-critical, non-emergency situation due to their medical condition.

Corporate Angel Network

The Corporate Angel Network (CAN) is the only charitable organization whose sole mission is to transport cancer patients to the hospital at which they need to be to receive a specialized form of treatment. To do this, CAN pairs empty seats on both private and corporate aircraft with qualified patients who need the rides – all at no cost to the patient. This not only improves the patients’ chances of survival but, at the same time, reduces their emotional stress, physical discomfort and financial burden.

Participation is open to all cancer patients, bone marrow donors and recipients and stem cell donors and recipients who are ambulatory and not in need of medical support while traveling. Eligibility is not based on financial need, and patients may travel as often as necessary.

Thanks to the generous cooperation of 500 of America’s top corporations, including half of the top 100 in the Fortune 500, CAN has coordinated more than 60,000 flights since its founding in 1981. “Our program offers an obvious and meaningful benefit to cancer patients and their caregivers, along with the opportunity for companies with corporate aircraft to provide a wonderful community service by merging business activities with corporate social responsibility,” says CAN Executive Director Gina Russo.

LifeLine Pilots

Founded in 1981 by Wanda Whitsitt of Champaign, IL, LifeLine Pilots’ mission is to facilitate free air transportation through volunteer pilots for financially distressed passengers with medical and humanitarian needs.

LifeLine Pilots began as a small group of pilots in Illinois who envisioned using their special skill of flying to help people with emergencies reach medical centers. With only 40 pilots, all activity was limited to departing or arriving within the state. All operations were under the auspices of Illinois Emergency Services and Disaster Agency, taking advantage of their 24-hour phone service and liability protection. After five years, the group separated from the state agency to expand the service area outside of Illinois. Criteria was expanded to include a financial need and logistical concerns. Board Members served as volunteer mission coordinators. The 100th mission was flown in 1987.

By 1990, it was evident that the increase in mission activity would require a paid mission coordinator to handle the volume. In 1998, the move was made to relocate LifeLine Pilots’ office to Byerly Aviation at the Greater Peoria Airport and broaden the scope of activities. A steady growth in mission activity has underlined the importance of this decision. To date, over 8,000 missions have been flown by LifeLine Pilots’ Volunteer Pilots. The service area has grown to include free air transportation to those traveling between the Rocky Mountains and the East Coast.

The generosity of 450 volunteer pilots makes the mission of LifeLine Pilots’ a reality. Their decision to donate their time and resources to those with transportation needs has resulted in over 5,000,000 charitable nautical miles flown. The volunteer pilots come from all walks of life, are FAA certified, have met the LifeLine Pilot’s volunteer pilot criteria and have a willingness to donate 100% of flight expenses.

LifeLine Pilots’ passengers must have financial need, be able to sit upright, be ambulatory and be willing to fly in a small unpressurized aircraft. They have exhausted resources in their own community and are needing to travel a great distance to continue lifesaving treatments. LifeLine Pilots does not limit the number of times a passenger can utilize the service. Missions are facilitated for babies through senior citizens. LifeLine Pilots’ has also participated in relief efforts for natural disasters by transporting volunteers and supplies to areas of need.

To continue to meet the growing need of those with transportation barriers, ongoing outreach to referral sources such as medical centers and service organizations, as well as participation in general aviation events to recruit volunteer pilots are necessary functions of LifeLine Pilots’ operations. The organization is a 501 (c)(3) charity that is privately funded by individuals, corporations and foundations.

LIGA International Flying Doctors of Mercy

Since 1934, the Flying Doctors of Mercy have been creating miracles deep in the heart of México, where only the employed can afford medical and dental care. With modern donated equipment, Liga volunteers treat tens of thousands of persons every year and provide millions of dollars in services to the local peoples.

Audiologists, physicians, surgeons, podiatrists, anesthetists, nurses, translators and others from all corners of the globe depart in aircraft from California, Arizona and Nevada for their flights to historic El Fuerte in the State of Sinaloa, México. When they return to their homes early Sunday afternoon, they will have been away little more than 48 hours, but together they will have changed over 1,000 lives – and have experienced a trip of a lifetime.

Missionary Flights International (MFI)

MFI maintains regular passenger service each week to and from the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic in support of missionaries and aid workers when needed. In times of crisis, MFI works with companies willing to donate aircraft flight time to the cause.

Patients AirLift Service (PALS)

Patient AirLift Services is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that arranges free air transportation for individuals requiring medical diagnosis, treatment or follow-up who cannot afford or are unable to fly commercially.

PALS also arranges volunteer flights for family members of patients as compassionate missions, to ensure patients have support when they are away from home for long periods. PALS is proud to assist military personnel and their families with free flights to aid in the recovery and rehabilitation processes for wounded veterans. PALS also has a history of supporting humanitarian efforts in the event of natural or man-made disasters.

Veterans Airlift Command

The Veterans Airlift Command (VAC) has put together a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots to provide free air transportation to post 9/11 combat wounded veterans and their families for medical and other compassionate purposes.

Wings of Mercy

Serious or rare illnesses are not always treatable at local or even regional medical centers. Sometimes the best or only treatment can be hundreds of miles away. And, even when a patient’s health insurance will cover treatment, it rarely covers transportation to those services. That’s where Wings of Mercy comes in, connecting people who can’t afford the financial burden of commercial flights with volunteer pilots who can get them there.

Wings of Mercy was founded by a Michigan native and pilot, Peter VandenBosch. Peter founded Wings of Mercy in 1991, and since then, the organization has flown over 8,000 missions. It has grown from just a handful of volunteers to a registered, organized nonprofit, and has seen the formation of two additional chapters in Minnesota and East Michigan. The organization can fly anywhere in the US east of the Rocky Mountains, and it is currently looking to grow its network and services further.

With accountability and stewardship, Wings of Mercy ensures that 80% of all donations go directly toward sustaining the cost of its flights, most of which are fuel expenses. All pilots are volunteers, generously lending their time and oftentimes their planes to our cause. With minimal staff and low overhead, the organization coordinates flights to meet appointments, pay for aviation fuel/expenses and raise funds to continue our operations. It is entirely funded by charitable contributions.