I think Debi will echo my surprise at how well PNP has done in its first year. When we discussed the possibility of encouraging pilots to volunteer for animal rescue flights I don't think either of us anticipated how giving the pilots were and how quickly the news would spread.
I can say that neither of us anticipated the media interest, and this year we saw growth spurts after every article that appeared in print or on TV. And with that growth of numbers of volunteer pilots we have seen many success stories. Needless to say all of you who have participated are to be thanked for your generosity and willingness to help animals in need.
This has been a learning experience also. As a pilot who started the year with zero experience in transporting animals I have found myself learning as I go. I have seen on the discussion board other pilots doing the same thing. As a result I can pass along some observations to make 2009 and even better year.
As calm and easy going as some animals are I know now that every animal transported needs to be resrained or contained in a carrier. As pilots we cannot have our attention diverted by an animal that needs attention. If animals are to be carried I want them secured, and if the animal has a medical issue or is prone to have problems while traveling I will also want someone to accompany me to tend to the animal so I can concentrate on flying.
I have participated in relay flights, and have run parallel with other planes when I could not carry the full number of animals. I personally understand how some flights may be beyond what a pilot may wish to fly, but I see clearly that a relay flight has special planning needs and pilots and rescues need to do a better job of planning. If the pilots involved in a relay are limited, such as VFR only everybody involved needs to understand this up front. If the flight is critical, such as timing is important, then a back up plan needs to be in place. For example, the back up may be a pilot who is IFR rated with an IFR certified plane. Another form of back up may be to have rescues at every waypoint. If a multi leg flight has a rescue at every planned waypoint then the intermediate rescue can be available to receive and shelter the animals if weather or a problem prevents the next leg from taking place.
We have found that planes sometimes break or weather sometimes is worse than planned. we are working on a second map like the pilot's map to locate rescues who may be able to receive the animals from a pilot who cannot proceed and must make an unplanned stop along the route.
All planes are different, even planes with the same type certificates. Because of that each pilot has to measure his or her own plane and determine what carrier sizes will work, and what size and how many animals can be carried safely. If a new volunteer pilot wants some help, use this discussion board to post questions to pilots who may have experience. The issue is not only getting the carriers to fit in a given plane, but having a plan to load or unload animals either from the carrier while it is in the plane, or outside the plane. I have to unload the animals from my large carrier before I can collapse the carrier and remove it from the plane to access carriers in the rear for example.
Rescues are often not familiar with general aviation pilots, planes or their limitations. Pilots have to sometimes say no. Long rescue flights that cover 1500 miles for example are just not practical for a GA rescue and the rescues need to hear and understand these distances are best left to commercial flights. Sarah Murphy has written an excellent article and can help guide rescues on arranging commercial rescue flights. We will work to enlist the aid of commercial pilots for this type of rescue. GA pilots while enthusiastic about participating in such a rescue need to understand that these long relays are almost impossible to coordinate and it puts a lot of pressure on pilots once the relay begins. If such a long distance transport is required and commercial flights are not possible, then the long transport should be treated as separate individual legs with rescues at the end of each leg willing to shelter and house the animals until the next pilot can safely complete the next leg. This is not a rule or a standard, but an observation about the difficulty trying to get a long distance aviation transport to come off without a hitch and without putting pressure on each pilot in line.
My final observation is for pilots to develop relationships with rescues. I have found a number of rescues that routinely require transports, and those often go to a limited number of foster homes or other rescues in areas where the animals are likely to get permanent adoption. By working with the same rescues they get to know me, the plane and my limitations. With rare exception I choose to fly with a plane load. My theory is it costs the same to save one dog as it does to save 7 or 8, so the rescues I routinely deal with work with other rescues to create a full load. They understand how everything works and with minimal communications and effort working together we have saved a lot of animals in 2008, and expect 2009 to be even more productive and with very little drama.
Those are my observations. I hope you will share yours so we can all learn from one another.
Be safe out there.