Gas Prices Grounding Missions Flights

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CWN.org -- The high cost of gas is affecting missionaries and missions worldwide by stalling the flights of the mission aviation ministry that serves them.

Mission Aviation Fellowship , a faith-based, nonprofit ministry that serves missions and isolated people around the world with aviation, communications and learning technologies, has been forced to cut operating costs by 10 percent in the wake of soaring gas prices. That means some flights have been grounded, MAF President John Boyd told CBN News.

"Some of our airplanes are on the ground and that's a tragedy when you think of the fact that MAF not only partners with more than a thousand Christian church, mission, and relief organizations but it's really the impact on the people we serve in these remote regions of these countries," he said.

"There are people hurting and suffering because of the fact that the one life-link that folk have out there is the MAF airplane."

Listen to more comments from the CBN News interview with MAF President John Boyd by clicking on the player above.

High fuel costs are having a negative impact on all relief agencies, which not only are providing food and other necessities, but in many cases are sharing the Gospel as part of their outreach.

"It is a serious crisis," said David Fyock, MAF vice president of resources. The MAF fleet of 134 aircraft flies in the most remote regions of the world and works in areas where some people earn only a dollar a day. MAF is unable to pass along the entire fuel cost increase to clients, so the ministry is absorbing more of those costs.

Aviation, in the minds of many, is the heart and soul of reaching the unreached peoples of the world. Missionary aircraft can take people into areas where no roads exist. They deliver food, medicines and other supplies when roads are impassible. But this effective mode of transportation is in peril, as the cost of aviation fuel rises out of control.

"Automobile gasoline in the United States is expected to reach $5 per gallon or higher," said Fyock. "Today, MAF has no choice but to pay as much as $13 a gallon for aviation gas - or 'avgas' - overseas. That means it costs about $234 an hour in fuel alone to run an airplane. Some MAF programs are already anticipating $18 per gallon."

Any fuel other than avgas will damage piston-powered aircraft engines and could result in catastrophic failure, said Fyock. It's the only fuel approved by the FAA for these engines.

Not only are prices climbing to unprecedented levels, but the shortage of avgas overseas adds a second crippling blow to the ministry, said Fyock.

"According to the United Nations, between 1995 and 2005, world export of avgas has declined to 175,000 metric tons from 310,000 metric tons - a whopping 43.5 percent reduction. For all users of avgas, this means fierce competition for a dwindling supply," he said.

Because the areas in which MAF is working are so remote, the ministry has to stockpile fuel. The amount of money tied up in fuel inventory is twice what it was a year ago, said Fyock.

"The problem is so serious that after much negotiating, our Indonesia flight programs recently had to buy fuel in one large bulk order - enough for three months of flight operations," he said. "The cost to MAF was a staggering half a million dollars!"

Not much can be done in the short-term, Fyock said, other than raise more funding to offset the additional costs. However, new technology will help in the long run.

"Long-term, there are some different aircraft and engine designs that are coming out. The KODIAK 100 is an example of one of these aircraft that uses jet fuel instead of avgas. And jet fuel worldwide is about one-third the price of avgas," Fyock said.

Diesel engines could replace current avgas engines as well, which also would reduce the cost of fuel, Fyock added.

"The bottom line is all mission organizations need to raise more money to help fund their ministries," said Fyock. "Many believe high fuel costs are here to stay."

*Original posting July 16, 2008.

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