Czech pilots take to skies to fight COVID-19

Prague (AFP) –


Nearly 400 Czech pilots have volunteered to fly critical medical supplies across the country to healthcare workers struggling with shortages in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pilots to People initiative launched on Facebook in late March uses light aircraft to ship face masks and other medical supplies where they are needed as quickly as possible.

Loading a box containing face shields at the Prague-Letnany airport on a sunny Thursday morning, professional pilot Martin Zeman is heading to the city of Brno, 190 kilometres (120 miles) southeast of the capital Prague.

"I signed up a few days after the initiative emerged," he told AFP, ahead of his first hour-long flight.

"I thought everyone should contribute in this difficult time and pilots know how to fly, so we should help this way."

An EU member of 10.7 million people, the Czech Republic had registered 5,467 confirmed cases of the virus and 112 deaths by Thursday evening.

Pilots to People spokesman Ondrej Dana said the response to the effort launched by the Ultralight Czech Republic group, was overwhelming.

"On the first day, we registered about 150 pilots and then it went up. Now we have 390 pilots -- mostly non-professional sports pilots," he told AFP.

Flying out of 200 Czech airports and airfields, the pilots are covering the costs of the entire operation themselves, said Dana.

Pilots have also created a special website to coordinate flights.

The system is managed by six people who have so far dispatched 31 flights in under two weeks.

"We have pilots-programmers who have programmed our website in their free time. Somebody paid the domain, somebody else paid the hosting," said Dana.

A celebrity among pilots, 2018 Red Bull Air Race world champion Martin Sonka is one of the volunteers.

The aerobatics expert has swapped his racing Extra 300SR plane for a Czech-made Zlin 142 and promised to behave himself.

"This was an opportunity to help someone by doing what I do and what I like," Sonka said as he flew a batch of medical material from Brno to the eastern city of Ostrava last week.