The pilot shortage is not just at the airline level—it is also being keenly felt within the volunteer pilot community, notably by the Angel Flight organization.
Angel Flight is a network of volunteer pilots who provide free flights for humanitarian reasons, most often for people who need assistance when they travel for medical care.
“We need pilots, especially in Montana and Idaho,” explains Jen Cooper, Pacific Northwest Outreach Coordinator for Angel Flight West. “We have about 20 active pilots in Idaho right now, and we have hundreds of mission requests. We’re having to turn those missions down.”
What Is Angel Flight?
Angel Flight has been around for nearly 40 years. The organization is made up of volunteer pilots who fly their own airplanes or rental aircraft to provide transportation, often for people who need to get to medical appointments. The passengers generally come from rural areas where specialty medical care is not available. Angel Flight pilots take them to places where treatment can be obtained.
“That’s what we are best known for,” Cooper says. “But we also provide transportation for humanitarian purposes, such as getting children to specialty camps, or flying veterans, disaster relief, and helping individuals escape domestic violence.”
On the ground, Angel Flight has drivers called Earth Angels to get people from the airport to the medical facility free of charge—or to provide transportation when flying is not an option.
According to Cooper, Angel Flight missions are coordinated through hospitals and medical care providers. Sometimes the flights are to provide transport from a rural area to a specialty care center in a larger city, and sometimes the transports involve more than one flight and more than one pilot.
What It Takes
To be a pilot for Angel Flight, you must be at least 18 years of age and have logged at least 250 hours total time and 75 hours cross-country, pilot in command flight time.
Pilots must have a current flight review, or have completed a Part 121 or Part 135 line check. If flying under IFR, the pilot must have completed an instrument proficiency check within the last 12 months, or completed one phase of the FAA Wings Program within 12 months of their Angel Flight orientation.
Pilots must hold a medical certificate (BasicMed is fine) and be current in the aircraft they are flying. Pilots who use rental or flying club aircraft must supply proof of a checkout from the FBO or flying club.
Orientation is provided to the pilots; and they must agree to adhere to all FARs, and verify that they have the certificate, rating and type, if required, for the aircraft they will be flying for the missions.
The pilots also need to show a copy of the certificate of insurance applicable to the aircraft that will be used for the missions, providing at least $500,000 liability coverage with a minimum per-seat coverage of $100,000.
If the pilot is flying a non-owned aircraft, they need to supply certification from the club, rental operation, or the aircraft owner that the pilot is insured up to the required coverage amounts for the aircraft that will be used for Angel Flight missions.
Costs incurred during the mission, such as aircraft rental and fuel, are tax deductible. Cooper notes that the organization has arrangements with some FBOs to provide fuel for Angel Flights at a reduced cost.
Unfortunately, Angel Flight passenger missions cannot be flown in experimental or non-type-certificated aircraft. However, those aircraft can still be used for missions that do not involve flying passengers, such as blood transport.
“Flights are strictly voluntary,” says Cooper, “It’s left up to the pilot to accept the mission.”
Many pilots volunteer for Angel Flight as a means to build their hours, and according to Cooper, most come away with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that they have made a positive difference in someone else’s life. The pilots are encouraged to take selfies of their missions—and most do.
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