GA Helps Vaccine Distribution


GA is being harnessed to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines in South Carolina as Angel Flight Soars is shifting focus to help end the pandemic. Pilot Robby Hill, of Florence, told WBTW that he’s flown a vaccine mission and has more planned for the coming weeks. “I was able to go Fayetteville, NC, and pick up a cooler of COVID-19 supplies and fly it to Asheville, NC, and then I was met by another volunteer pilot and he completed the mission by carrying it to Nashville, TN,” Hill told the television station. 

Vaccine distribution has bogged down at the state level and Hill said GA can help. “Any pilots out there with planes I encourage them to spend all of their free time doing as much as they can to help with this logistical challenge that our nation has right now,” Hill says. “I feel a responsibility as an American, as a citizen of South Carolina and as a pilot to do everything in my power to help our country get back to normal and if that means flying vaccines around that’s what I’m going to do,” Hill said.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. FAA has issued a Safety Alert SAFO 20017, DEC20, advising pilot’s caution when flying vaccines and handling Dry Ice that is declared hazardous materials onboard a US registered aircraft.. Dry Ice, made of Carbon Dioxide, changes from a solid (sublimates) to a vapor and consumes oxygen and the FAA warns of pilot incapacitation..

  2. Dry ice sublimes to form CO2 gas that displaces air, it does not consume oxygen. It may seem to have the same result, but the good news is that CO2 gas is nontoxic and non reactive. So, it presents a lower danger than, say carbon monoxide (CO) which is always present in engine exhaust and is both reactive and toxic. Another plus is that humans can tolerate much higher concentrations of CO2 (up to about 5% in the air) than CO, which is hazardous in the parts per million range. The same precautions should apply, however. The pilot should fly with the fresh air vents open and should make frequent use of a pulse oximeter to see if his blood oxygen level is dropping. He should also fly with supplemental oxygen available just in case. Carrying a modest amount of vaccines would likely require a container about the size of a medium ice chest. With proper insulation, the container would offgas the CO2 at a rate that could easily be removed with normal aircraft fresh air systems.

    The FAA was right to issue the Safety Alert and pilots should be aware and take proper precautions for the hazard. But the alert applies more to larger aircraft carrying container-sized quantities and not a light single or twin carrying small volumes. The hazard can be easily addressed. General aviation has always stepped in to provide needed supplies and relief in times of natural disasters. This is just another example of how we can provide a valuable service to the country in a time of need.