Be The Match Seeks Volunteer Pilots For Pacific NW, Canada
Be The Match, a not-for-profit operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, has a particular shortage of volunteer pilots to fly donors or bone marrow and their couriers in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions of the U.S. and between Canada and the U.S.
“We’ve struggled on the West Coast getting pilots to meet the need that we have,” organizers say. The group has received a higher response from pilots on the East Coast.
Volunteer pilot organizations have not been allowing their volunteer pilots to carry passengers during the corona virus pandemic. While that is now changing, some pilots remain uneasy, said Alexander Zweig, with the National Marrow Donor Program.
The challenge? “It’s finding a pilot who’s willing to fly with a passenger on board–either with a donor or a courier with a marrow cooler with them,” Zweig said.
Organizers are also having difficulty flying bone marrow from Canada into the U.S. on commercial flights and must rely on private pilots.
“When you leave Canada from any of the main airports to the U.S. on a commercial airline, you must preclear U.S. customs before you board the plane,” Zweig said. But blood products are considered commercial goods, which must formally enter and clear customs only after they hit U.S. soil.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had couriers depart from smaller Canadian airports, which do not pre-clear U.S. customs,” he said. “Those smaller airports are now closed, which is why private and corporate pilots are key as general aviation flights do not preclear.”
With the dramatic decline in airline flights during the pandemic, Be The Match has had a number of challenges transporting donors and marrow to their intended recipients in time for them to survive, it said.
After an April 14 article in The Weekly of Business Aviation noting its challenges, Be The Match received a number of calls from individuals and organizations. Thanks to them, pilots have flown 17 trips for donors and couriers since then, saving 12 lives, according to Amanda Collins, representative of the Be The Match contingency planning group. The organization wants to “thank the people who have stepped up.”
Those wishing to volunteer aircraft or fractional hours should contact Alex Zweig at azweig@NMDP.org.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with contact information.