Public Benefit Flying

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Instead of boring a hole in the sky in the quest of yet another $100 hamburger, have you ever considered using your flying skills and airplane to help those in need? Frequent AVweb contributor Joe Godfrey, who has been flying Angel Flight missions for eight years, explains how you can get involved and why it'll make you feel good for a lot more reasons than the tax deduction. He also tells you how to find a Public Benefit Flying organization in your area.

PBF photoSometimes flying is its own reward. You catch the last rays of a beautiful sunset as you turn final, you calculate the fuel burn for your trip down to the tenth of a gallon, or you grease it on at the end of your first flight with your new in-laws. Every time we fly we usually come away with some new understanding of our skills, the airplane, weather, ATC, or the land below us.

Sometimes $100 omelet or hamburger flights are enough, but if you've ever yearned for a more meaningful reason to schedule a trip, consider public benefit flying.

Air Care Alliance
The best way to find an organization near you is to contact the National Air Transport Helpline (NPATH) or the Air Care Alliance. If you happen to live in the western U.S. (Calif., Oreg., Wash., Idaho, Nev., Ariz., or N.M.) like I do, you'll probably want to join Angel Flight West. There are many other active PBF organizations across the country, so there's bound to be one in your area.

Angel Flight WestI've been a member of Angel Flight West since about a month after I bought my Bellanca Viking in 1990. I read an article about public service you could do with a private pilot's license, I was fairly new to California, and I was excited about having a reason to explore new corners of my adopted state. Since 1990 I've flown about two missions a month in California, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona. I've enjoyed building my time in type and seeing some beautiful scenery, but perhaps the greatest reward is helping some very courageous people fight their diseases.

PBF photoEach organization has its own rules about minimum flight hours, pilot ratings, and which patients qualify for the service, so check with them for details. These aren't air amblulance services so you're not dealing with IV bottles and EKG machines in your 182. Angel Flight West "arranges free air transportation on private aircraft in response to health care and other compelling human needs". That means you might fly an adult patient, a child patient, a guide dog for the blind, human organs, tissues, or blood, or a physician. These are volunteer organizations so you decide when and where you want to go and who you can carry in your airplane. And, it's not just for airplane owners. Most organizations accomodate airplane renters.

PBF photoEach patient has a unique story and it's hard to forget them once you've flown them. Kurt Vonnegut says "90% of success is just showing up". Most patients I've flown are participating in experimental treatment programs at hospitals far from their homes, and wouldn't be able to "show up" without the transportation that we provide. A lot of Angel Flight's patients are fighting various forms of cancer. I lost both parents to cancer, so I'm always thrilled to hear that someone I've flown is in remission.

Costs you incur while flying for a 501.C3 non-profit organization are deductable from your income taxes, just like a cash donation to any other qualified charity. A few years ago there was some confusion over whether taking a deduction was a form of payment, and that by flying a mission you were actually operating under Part 135 of the FAR's. This issue has been settled conclusively. Deduction or no deduction, public benefit flying can be flown under Part 91. The Air Care Alliance page has a thorough explanation of the ruling.

CFI's and CFII's can participate, too. Most PBF organizations allow instructors to claim BFR's and Instrument Proficiency Checks to other members as donations.

Public benefit flying organizations have an amazingly good safety record. Patients are urged to make backup plans in case of a weather delay, so the PIC decides if the mission goes as scheduled.

PBF photoHave you ever given a donation to one of the mega-charities and wondered how much of your dollar actually gets to the people that you think you're giving it to? With public benefit flying, it's easy to see where your donation goes: to the passenger at your 6.

So next time you're filling out your logbook after one of those $100 omelet or hamburger flights, and your belly is full but your soul is a little hungry, think about how good you'd feel knowing that your flight could've helped someone battling a killer disease to lead a longer, fuller life. It's pretty neat when you can do that with an airplane!