PALS offers fuel reimbursement to volunteer pilots

Patient AirLift Services (PALS), a charitable air transportation service, has officially started to reimburse volunteer pilots for the fuel costs related to charitable flights.

PALS pilot Greg Zieba flew the first reimbursed flight from Farmingdale, N.Y.. to Newport News, Va., taking Blake Jones, a 4-year-old boy, and his Mom back home after he received treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering for Neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that afflicts young children.

4-year-old Blake Jones and his Mom, Rachel, fly back home to Virginia after he received treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City for a rare form of childhood cancer. Rachel turned to PALS after a major cancer organization could no longer help with their travel expenses.

Under this new PALS program, approved by the FAA, pilots can receive reimbursement for fuel costs incurred when flying patients in need of medical treatment during charitable missions. Prior to this program, PALS volunteer pilots were responsible for covering all costs associated with charitable missions, including fuel, which has recently risen dramatically in price and become a major factor in the operating cost per flight.

In June of last year, the FAA granted an exception to PALS to allow fuel cost reimbursement. The directive from Melvin Cintron, the FAA’s Acting Deputy Director of Flights Standards Service, states that: “a grant of exemption is in the best public interest.” The letter also supported the change, stating that the “FAA found that humanitarian efforts of these pilots who volunteer their time and piloting services are commendable, and the FAA wants to encourage this kind of volunteerism and public service for the common good of our citizens.”

“I am happy to use my piloting skills to help others,” said Zieba. “However, the high costs of maintaining a plane and the added fuel expense for flying has made it difficult to commit to many charitable flights.”

He went on to say that while the reimbursement program does not cover all fuel costs, “The significant reduction allowed through the program has made it more manageable for me financially.”

“This is a major initiative for PALS,” said PALS Chairman Joseph Howley. “There is a great need for our services among patients who have limited financial resources and are receiving treatment for an acute or chronic illness that make it either financially impossible or impracticable to use commercial or private air travel. The benefit to both PALS and the patients it serves is that pilots, who are limited to the number of missions they could afford to fly due to costs of fuel, will now be able to participate in a greater number of volunteer missions.”

PALS arranges need-based, free air transportation to individuals requiring medical care, as well as for other humanitarian purposes. PALS operates a network of volunteer pilots who provide this service without reimbursement or compensation, using their own or rented aircraft. In no case are fees of any kind charged for these services; generally, the individuals who utilize PALS have limited financial resources and are receiving diagnosis, treatment or follow-up for various types of acute or chronic illnesses or conditions that make it financially impossible to use public commercial or private charter transportation.

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