I’ll never forget how gratifying it was to file a flight plan as a Mercy Flight pilot. I wasn’t taking some rich family to the islands for vacation. I was on my way to save a life. When I got the call, someone was critically ill or injured and every second counted. We were like a well-oiled machine and we all loved what we did, even at 2 am in the middle of February.
Fast forward several years and I’m now taking rich families to the Islands for vacation. I still love to fly, but it’s not the same. I wish I still felt like I was making a difference, rather than just making a living. I think after flying professionally long enough, we all feel that way.
But there’s an organization called the Humanitarian Pilots Initiative (HPI) that wants to put “meaning” back into flying. The organization began as a Swiss foundation in 2015 and was created by a handful of general aviation pilots with more “heart” than flying hours. The group is working on three projects right now:
- Airborne patrolling of the Mediterranean to help migrants in distress
- An airlift of vulnerable individuals from Ukraine’s borders
- Development of a versatile and easily deployed airdrop system for humanitarian relief
Pretty good goals, if you asked me. When the foundation first began patrols in the Mediterranean, they were only able to afford ultralights to search for migrant boats in distress. They have since upgraded to a Cirrus SR22 and a twin engine Beechcraft Baron, thanks to donations from people who see the value in their work.
To date they have accumulated more than 3000 hours of patrol time and have participated in the rescue of over 25,000 migrants! WOW! Most of the volunteers in the project are professional airline pilots who believe in the cause and donate their time during their off days.
Of course, the volunteers are the heart of the foundation, but it’s not just pilots in demand. They’re also looking for professional photographers and other professionals with skills that would benefit their mission.
For now, they are a little far away for me to donate my skills, but I’ll be watching this organization for their anticipated growth. There is no doubt that the world needs what they have to offer, and I love the idea of filing a flight plan for a humanitarian reason again. Once it gets in your system, it’s hard to let it go. I hope more pilots join the HPI mission!