For some private pilots, flying to the joint of the world’s best hamburger is reason enough to slip the surly bonds of earth. For Peter Serodino, it’s all about helping those in need—specifically, patients with medical appointments far from home. He has been chosen by Airlift Hope as “Tennessee’s Pilot of the Year” for his outstanding charitable contributions and will be presented with an award by Mayor Ron Littlefield at Wilson Air Center at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport on Thursday.
Airlift Hope, a nonprofit charity based in Virginia Beach, uses the services of volunteer pilots to provide free flights for financially-needy patients who require treatment at distant, specialized clinics and hospitals.
Mr. Serodino grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot, coming of age in the late 1970s when the new F-18 fighter was being introduced into the Navy. He earned his private pilot’s license during his senior year at the University of Richmond. But with the military downsizing during that period, Mr. Serodino decided after college to join his family’s thriving barge and towboat business, Serodino, Inc., and never realized his dream. In 1981 he received his instrument rating and used his flying skills for business and pleasure trips.
In 1985 he bought a Beechcraft Baron twin engine airplane, averaging some 300 hours each year. He joined Airlift Hope in 2009 after learning about the organization from volunteer pilots at an airshow in Chattanooga. “One of the key ingredients of flying for me is to have a mission, to get somewhere for a reason. Flying locally in circles is okay, but after a few flights, it gets boring. Airlift Hope provides a mission and helps someone out at the same time,” he said. Mr. Serodino tries to fly for Airlift Hope at least once a month.
One of his most memorable missions was to fly a patient from Chattanooga to Pittsburgh for a liver transplant. “If the patient didn’t arrive in time, the organs would be wasted,” he said. Other flights have been to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Georgia, and to various facilities in the eastern U.S. specializing in alternative cancer treatments.
Mr. Serodino sold his original Beechcraft Baron and purchased an upgraded version of the same aircraft in 1992, one that includes color weather radar and protection for flight into known icing.
Airlift Hope Executive Vice President Jim Smith praised Mr. Serodino for his service. “Peter is an American hero in the truest sense of the word,” he said. “The patients and families who call us for help are struggling with enormous medical and financial challenges. Without the trips provided by Peter and our other volunteer pilots, these folks would be medically stranded and lives would be lost.”
With the slogan, “the shortest distance between home and hope,” Airlift Hope serves ambulatory patients of all ages, with medical conditions ranging from rare diseases to burns to cancer. In this suffering economy, patients often lack the financial means to pay for long-distance transportation.
Many of the volunteer pilots donate time and energy by remaining just a phone call away. They provide the aircraft, owned or rented, while handling all accompanying expenses, such as fuel and any necessary maintenance.
Airlift Hope links flights with other volunteer pilot organizations in the Mid-Atlantic region, with access to over 630 volunteer pilots who averaged 70 flights every month in 2011 alone. Last year, Tennessee pilots completed 17 missions in coordination with Airlift Hope, representing a public benefit of $14,220.
Mission coordination is a complex and expensive process involving many parties: pilots, doctors and case workers, patients, family members, and Old Man Weather. Airlift Hope relies on charitable donations to cover the costs of arranging these life-saving flights.
For more information, visit www.airlifthope.org. To request a flight, call 800 325-8908.