Pilots pitch in for hurricane relief

Pilots from all over the United States are donating their time, airplanes and resources to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Shortly after the magnitude of the disaster became known, aviation organizations were deluged with requests from pilots who wanted to know how they could help. Most were told to contribute money to the Red Cross as many of the airports in the area were badly damaged— if not underwater — and there was no fuel, not to mention the numerous temporary flight restrictions in place over the regions.

One of the first groups to respond with pilots was Angel Flight America, which also operates the Homeland Security Emergency Air Transportation System (HSEATS), which uses GA aircraft to help in times of national crisis.

Immediately after the hurricane, Kenneth Rusnak, executive director and CEO of Angel Flight America, expressed frustration that the organization’s volunteer pilots were not being utilized because the program was so new no one in the federal government knew they were there.

There were some problems, he noted, in working with relief groups on site because the Memos of Understanding, where agencies agree to work with each other in times of crisis, had not filtered down to the people in the field.

“Our pilots would offer to fly people out of the area or to ferry supplies or people in and we were told no because of insurance reasons,” he said. “So we sat on our hands until that got sorted out.”

As this issue was going to press, Rusnak estimated the group had 400 pilots volunteering their time in the area. The relief effort was operating out of Addison Airport (ADS) near Dallas.

“It’s been busy. We had to add eight telephone lines,” he noted. “We’ve had a lot of pilots wanting to volunteer. They are paying for their own fuel and you know how much that is these days. We are working with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and the shelters to do the relocation and medical evacuation flights. We have flown over 1,500 missions to date, including over 3,000 people on medical rescues out of the area.”

Some of the flights are similar to relay races, says Rusnak. “In some cases we have a pilot flying someone 300 miles, then another pilot picks them up and continues on,” he explained. “In that respect we have pilots from all over the country helping us.”

One of the most active volunteer organizations in the hurricane zone is the Civil Air Patrol. As soon as the storm had passed hundreds of CAP members, many from the storm-battered areas and whose homes had been damaged or lost, assisted in relief operations by carrying out air and ground search and rescue missions, flying transport flights for city, state and federal emergency management officials, and shooting aerial damage-assessment photos using CAP’s satellite-transmitted digital imaging technology.  

One of the challenges facing pilots flying in and out of the area is determining the condition of an airport or if it has fuel.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has created a link on its website to keep pilots updated on the situation. Go to AOPA.org and click on the WhatsNew link.

Angel Flight America:
800-446-1231 or AngelFlight.org.

The Air Care Alliance:
888-260-9707 or AirCareAll.org

Flying Paws (animal rescue): FlyingPaws.org.
American Red Cross: RedCross.org.

Salvation Army:

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