Flying for the Environment

Many perceive aviation solely as planes moving cargo or passengers from Point A to Point B.  Pilots and avid aviation enthusiasts, however, understand that the power of flight can be used for much more than simple transportation.  In some cases, airplanes can be used as an invaluable tool in wildlife and nature conservation.

In Africa

Sound crazy?  It’s really not.  Take for instance, The Bateleurs.  This unique non-profit organization based in South Africa, has a membership of roughly 220 pilots.  All are volunteers who give their time, aviation skills and the use of their privately-owned aircraft for conservation efforts and the environment in Africa.  Founded in 1998 by conservationist Nora Kreher, The Bateleurs have flown more than 600 missions in 10 different countries.  Aerial view of a river and surrounding tree area

Their missions address a wide-range of objectives including:  identifying illegal land conversion, roads and housing; tracking, surveying and relocating wild animals; conducting habitat assessments and surveys; and supporting wildlife crime investigations.

They have successfully assisted in numerous wildlife relocations involving lions, cheetahs and even African clawless otter cubs.  Most recently, 14 endangered African Wild Dogs were translocated from South Africa and Mozambique to Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve.

The Bateleurs provide a unique, aerial perspective to conservation organizations, educators, researchers, Non-government Organizations and even the media.  These incomparable views offer immeasurable insight and understanding so that smart, educated decisions can be made regarding environmental issues.   

In addition to aiding environmental organizations, The Bateleurs also support university students majoring in the study of the environment and/or conservation.  These flights, offered to senior students, build on their existing knowledge through the benefit of aerial perspective.       

Here in the U.S.

Nineteen years before The Bateleurs was founded, Michael Stewart launched LightHawk.  While flying over the southwest desert, he saw open pit mines and intruding developments.  That image Pilot flying over environmental shorelinesparked the idea of using flight to view conservation issues below. 

In 1979, he officially started the program with his first undertaking aimed at showing the effects of building a coal-based power plant on the threshold of the Grand Canyon.  That mission soon spiraled into another, and another, and then yet another.

Today, LightHawk is the largest environmental flying organization in the country.  It boasts a network of over 300 volunteer pilots who fly more than 400 missions each year.  Working with more than 100 conservation partners, they provide invaluable data and inspirational images that assist with ocean, river, land and wildlife issues.    

Through technical flights, data is collected via aerial photography that is pertinent in showing patterns of human and wildlife use.  These flights are vitally important to scientists focused on habitat and species surveys, as well as those documenting environmental crimes and land use conditions.  

Educational flights are often used to give passengers such as village leaders or members of Congress a much needed, physical view of various landscapes where development is proposed.  These in-person observations provide powerful perspective of potential environmental damage that simply can’t be conveyed in the pages of a written proposal. 

In other instances, educational flights are run to assist reporters, photographers and filmmakers who are working on environmental-themed stories.

Good ‘ol Toledo, Ohio

While we don’t see many environmental assessing aircraft here in Toledo, Grand Aire is proud to operate the only 24/7/365 full-service FBO on the field at KTOL.  If your travels happen to bring you to our FBO, we are more than happy to assist you.  Check out our list of services and amenities or give us a call at 1-800-70-GRAND.  You may also email our team directly at