More than 700 pilots have registered to provide free transportation for medical care, including abortions and gender-affirming healthcare, according to a new non-profit called Elevated Access.
The group plans to service rural areas to provide access to medical care, which may now be more difficult to get, depending on the state. Elevated Access says more than $100,000 has been donated to support the organization’s mission.
In the weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion rights advocates have been concerned that women living in states with anti-abortion laws may be forced to travel long distances out of state to find the medical services they need.
FLYING spoke to the founder of Elevated Access—who asked to be identified as “Mike”—an IT director and avid GA pilot who’s using the pseudonym to protect his identity.
Mike said he launched the charitable organization, which is based in Springfield, Illinois, as a way to use his pilot’s certificate for social good.
Supporting Those in Need
“I wasn’t quite sure what the best way [was] to be able to help people,” Mike said. He explained that the impetus to start Elevated Access came from a workshop he attended in the spring of 2021. At the time, Mike said he learned about healthcare restrictions that underprivileged people living in hard-to-reach areas might face—particularly around pregnancy termination.
“Most people affected by limited healthcare access are in communities where there isn’t a clinic, and they don’t have the means to travel,” Mike explained. “So by and large, even before Roe v. Wade overturned, it was challenging accessing an abortion.”
As a result, Mike created Elevated Access, a platform for general aviation pilots to provide travel free of cost to those in need. That also explains why Mike’s organization was registered as early as April of this year—months ahead of the June 24 Supreme Court ruling that gave states authority to establish anti-abortion legislation.
Following the court’s decision, public discourse focused on travel and the potential inability of some women to attain abortions and other maternal healthcare options in those states with laws on the books set to enact with the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
In response, many large companies began to say that they would cover travel expenses for workers to states where they could legally access the healthcare they’d need. In most cases, that meant airline travel. According to Mike, however, employees of large companies aren’t the demographic most affected by the recent ruling nor are they the neediest. Beyond just being a response to the high court decision, Mike said the scope of Elevated Access is broader, encompassing access to healthcare.
Hence, Elevated Access benefits from being in the right place at the right time but also taps into a unique set of general aviation pilots and owners who are more than willing to support this cause. It is not unlike similar organizations that provide support for medical care, such as Angel Flights, or those that do animal rescue. It just happens to be at the center of a divisive topic.
When FLYING spoke to one of Elevated Access’s pilots, a social media influencer and an airline pilot by day—who goes by the moniker “CheesePilot” on the social platform TikTok and permitted FLYING to use his first name, Adrian, for this article—he said Mike reached out to him on the social media platform to ask for his help in creating awareness for the new organization.
“So, I made a few TikTok videos about it, and the next thing you know, 700 pilots are volunteering, $100,000 raised, and my following went up from 1,500 followers to 101,000 followers,” Adrian gushed. The regional airline pilot said he’s also benefited from his efforts.
Adrian says he’s looking to purchase a Lake 200 that, apparently, has stable market prices amid a still hot buyers’ market. If he is successful, he’ll be among the 70 percent of pilots who told the non-profit that they have access to an airplane and will fly it for the cause.
Pilots Need To Meet Standards
“Of the 700 pilots that we’ve gotten, over 500 of them either outright said they had an airplane available to them or said they were able to figure out how to gain access to an aircraft,” Mike told FLYING. “The vast majority have access to aircraft of various fashion. Some are owners—we have someone with an Eclipse (the very light business jet); we also have a few with a Cirrus Vision Jet, all the way to people with a Cessna 182.”
Pilots sign up on the company’s website and must undergo a stringent vetting process. To begin with, they must be over 21 years old, be a private pilot with at least 200 hours of total time, complete a WINGS pro course and a Public Benefit Flying course on AOPA’s website, and have insurance. That’s just at a skills level, but the company says culture fit and values matter more.
“The easiest part is checking their pilot credentials,” Mike said. “The other part is having them send in statements of support for abortion and gender and affirming care, as well as talking to two references from them about their support for those things.”
If pilots make it past that hurdle—when we spoke to Mike, he said 70 did already—they are then connected to support organizations across the country to get them plugged into their network to fill flight requests. That’s because Elevated Access doesn’t field healthcare requests. They partner with established practical support organizations, like Midway Coalition, that handle the front-end work.
Elevated Access says they only want to provide another means of travel support, other than automobiles and trains, and that general aviation pilots fill a significant need. On the other hand, for pilots, that means they’re protected from any sensitive information whenever they have to complete a flight request. In fact, they are intentionally ignorant about the medical needs of their patient passengers, to protect against any liability. That also means the trips they complete are non-urgent, as neither they nor their airplanes are equipped for emergency transport.
The nonprofit said it’s also thinking about the service and is taking care not to rush expansion, despite its exponential popularity. This includes training pilots to handle sensitive healthcare situations.
“We’re also working on some additional training for pilots. We want them to be better prepared to support people traveling to access this kind of healthcare.”
Mike said he’s also aware of the need for legal support soon, as he anticipates there will be pushback, both on the type of care his organization is providing and how pilots operate—that is, to ensure there are no accusations of “holding out” and that the volunteer pilots understand all related restrictions. The FAA defines “holding out” as a willingness by pilots or operators to transport persons or property from place to place for compensation or hire. This privilege is reserved for operators with a commercial operator’s certificate from the FAA.
So, why have pilots overwhelmingly signed up and centered themselves on this hot-button issue? For some, it is personal.
“The whole reason I’m doing this is that my mother’s lack of access to reproductive healthcare made it that some of my life wasn’t great,” Adrian from TikTok reflected. “Being twins to a 14-year-old isn’t the easiest life.”