Mission aviators make cuts as world fuel crisis continues

By June 20, 2008

International (MNN) — Aviation is the heart and soul of reaching the unreached peoples of the world. Missionary aircraft can take people into areas where there are no roads. They can deliver food, medicines, and other supplies when roads are impassible. However, that mode of transportation is in crisis as the cost of aviation gasoline is out of control.

In the final part of our series on the global fuel crisis, we're focusing on how missionary aviation ministries are affected by the high cost of fuel.

Mission Aviation Fellowship
has a fleet of more than 50 aircraft, flying about 3 million miles a year to remote regions of the world. However, MAF's David Fyock says while gasoline prices have increased over a dollar a gallon, avgas hasn't. "Our avgas has gone up actually at a rate of three to four times that. So we're paying $13 plus a gallon in some locations around the world." That means it costs them about $234 an hour in fuel alone to run an airplane.

He says, "We are calling it a crisis. We are worldwide cutting our operating expenses by 10-percent so that we can absorb the fuel costs."

Fyock says MAF is working in areas where some people only earn a dollar a day. "We're unable to pass along the increase to our clients, so we're absorbing more of that cost."

Because of the areas in which MAF is working are so remote, they have to stockpile the avgas. The amount of money tied up in cash in that fuel inventory is twice what it was a year ago. "Last May we had $500,000 in fuel inventory. This May we have almost $1,100,000 in fuel inventory. This is important because it is tying up significant money that otherwise would be used to help the organization pay bills."

While MAF hasn't cut any flight services, Fyock says, "Just in the past couple of weeks we have had some discussions on what it would look like if we had to reduce our fleet size, or reduce the number of hours we would fly in given locations." However, no decision has been reached on that yet.

SEND International
works in Alaska where there are no roads in many parts of the state. SEND's Barry Rempel says their missionaries are dependent on air transportation to get in and out of areas for ministry. He says that's forcing them to ask questions. "Here's what we would like to do ministry-wise. This is how many hours in an airplane it's going to take us to do that. Now, what is that going to cost us in terms of fuel to get that done?"

Wycliffe Associates
is also dependent on aviation to get their people in and out of villages in the bush. Wycliffe's Bruce Smith says the higher fuel costs haven't forced them into radical decisions yet. Smith says the ramifications are obvious. "The cost of operating the aircraft or the helicopters that are serving that are serving the most remote locations continues to go up. That means more money goes to the gas companies and less money goes to the recipients of the ministry."

Fyock says — short-term — there's not much that can be done, other than raise more funding to offset the additional costs. However, new technology will help long term. "Long term, there are some aircraft and some engine designs that are coming out — The Kodiac 100 would be an example of a different aircraft that uses jet fuel instead of avgas. And, jet fuel worldwide is about one-third the price of avgas."

Diesel engines could also replace current avgas engines, which would also reduce the costs of fuel.

The bottom line is all mission organizations are going to have to raise more money to help fund their ministry. Many believe high fuel costs are here to stay. Ministries are asking you to pray and ask God what He'd have you give to help them reach the lost for Christ.

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