Mike is one of 1,100 volunteer pilots providing women free flights to access reproductive care through a nonprofit called Elevated Access.
ATLANTA — For pilot Mike, flying is a passion.
But when he’s not in flight for fun, Mike charters passengers he’s never even met. The hours he spends flying are about more than fulfilling his passion, it’s about serving a purpose.
“There’ll be a grin on my face the entire time,” he said.
The retired pilot takes his small airplane either alone for a spin or to share his Air Force memories with his granddaughter, giving Mike delight in every second he spends in the cockpit. But it’s the mission he serves that gives the rhyme to his reason.
“It’s all about talking about the flight and sightseeing and things like that,” he said. “The one thing we never talk about, of course, is what we’re doing and why we are doing this.”
Mike is one of 1,100 volunteer pilots providing women free flights to access reproductive care through a nonprofit called Elevated Access. The organization took flight in 2022 as states imposed restrictions on abortion or gender-affirming care.
“We’ve been surprised, but very pleased with how the country has responded to support our mission,” said Fiona, one of the nonprofit’s directors.
The mission, she said, is to ease access to care for individuals who are stuck.
“We are serving people who cannot afford to make these 500, 800, 1000-mile journeys,” she said. “They are often very low-income. They might already have children of their own. They probably face many, many barriers to getting healthcare.”
Mike is a girl dad and they are his heartbeat. His family lives in Georgia and he has three daughters who live in the Peach State.
Most of the passengers Mike flies to access abortion care have never stepped on a plane before.
“This is a major step because it’s cramped, and it’s noisy,” he said. “And the hours — ungodly.”
Chartering people to access healthcare is nothing new for Mike. From Cambodia, to Bangladesh, to Jordan, Mike spent years flying women seeking care. Recent healthcare restrictions across the U.S. are renewing his passion to help those in need.
“I kept hearing about the best medical care in the world. Oh, horse feathers,” he said. “It may be, but not for a whole lot of people.”
The number of abortions in Georgia dropped by 50%, from around 4,000 to 2,000 after July 2022, after the state’s abortion law went into effect — banning abortions after six weeks, according to the society of family planning analysis.
“Have you gotten more calls since the passage of the heartbeat bill in Georgia?” 11Alive’s Faith Jessie asked.
“Oh, yeah, yeah. That really changed the game entirely,” he said.
It’s a reality that keeps Mike and other pilots’ phones ringing.
“Sadly, elevated access is growing not because we’re trying to grow, but as the laws get more onerous in many places,” Fiona said.
As the organization grows, Fiona said the need for more pilots is soaring, too. All pilots get vetted to make sure they align with Elevated Access’ mission before they can fly.
“These are people who are leading with their heart,” Mike said. “And you know, I love my little airplane, but it’s not cheap to fly.”
It costs Mike roughly $100 an hour, but that’s not the only service the pilots provide. He wears the hat of pilot, friend and as he jokes, stand-up comedian.
“There’s no sense of victimization, there’s no self-pity,” Mike said. “There’s ‘let’s get on with it, let’s get the job done.'”
Along with a pilot’s license, some of the pilot requirements include a current minimum of 200 hours of pilot in-command time, proof of insurance, and meeting FAA minimums for flight status and currency.
You can view more of the requirements and ways to sign up to volunteer at the link here.
As for those seeking access to care, individuals are referred to Elevated Access through individual healthcare providers, case workers, or organizations like Planned Parenthood.
Referrals keep coming for the pilots, fueling the need to continue flying to serve their mission. For Mike, when asked when he would stop flying, he gave a conclusive answer.
“When the calls stop coming in and I know the job is complete.”