A regional conservation nonprofit comprised of pilots is looking for more local volunteers.
Some SouthWings staff members gathered today in Galliano for one of its quarterly meetings to talk about safety and the organization’s mission with current and prospective members.
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, the nonprofit has volunteers across 13 southeastern states. It includes states from Louisiana to Florida and as far north as Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay area.
With each flight, its volunteer pilots offer a look at environmental challengers from a perspective not seen at ground level, said Emmet Bartholomew, the head of volunteer pilot recruitment in the Gulf region.
He said the meetings were designed to combine pilots’ love of discussion aviation-related topics such as safety with the organization’s conservation concerns.
“We like to be able to marry both the safety side of aviation with how they can put their aviation skills to best use,” said Bartholomew.
During his time with the nonprofit, he’s flown with local political leaders, high-profile legislators from Washington, D.C., and journalists and film crews from around the world.
The nonprofit is constantly looking for more volunteer pilots. In Louisiana, flights typically involve looks at different aspects of the coast, from offshore drilling to coastal restoration projects.
Restore or Retreat Executive Director Simone Maloz said her own nonprofit works closely with SouthWings. The Thibodaux-based Restore or Retreat works on coastal policy issues and outreach in the state.
“SouthWings has been a good partner in coastal Louisiana by providing eye-opening, birds-eye views of our coastal challenges and opportunities,” she said.
SouthWings Gulf Program Manager Virginia Richard, who grew up in Louisiana, said she learned about the coastal land loss and degradation of wetlands in school and was still “blown away” on her first flight.
“Our land is just washing away at a catastrophic rate,” she said. “Aviation is really unique in that it allows people to get a perspective that you can’t get on the ground.”
She noted that aside from journalists and politicians, they also schedule flights for representatives of disenfranchised communities and other local leaders to provide that resource.
“We need input from all areas,” she said.
Richard said the volunteer pilots accept flights that coordinate with their schedule, donating their time, fuel and expertise.
“They’re doing it because they love to fly, and they love what they’re doing,” she said.
Bartholomew said the chance to volunteer gives local pilots a reason to fly and maintain their skills, especially in cases when relatives are less enthusiastic about them flying without a mission.
“It helps them protect their currency,” he said, referring to the pilot’s skills.
He noted that even a few weeks without flying can allow some rust to take hold.
It’s also very rewarding for most volunteers, he said.
“Because they’re getting to use the airplane for something that’s obviously important,” he said.
Local pilots interested in volunteering can request information or start the process by emailing email@example.com.
Staff Writer Halle Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 857-2204. Follow her on Twitter, @_thehalparker.