Manaus - Part 3 - A Big Need


Manaus has two seasons - rainy and dry; both are warm. When we visited, Manaus was nearing the tail-end of the raining season. Despite technically being summer time in Manaus, the rainy season is actually slightly cooler than the technical winter season. The city sits only 4 degrees below the equator, so the temperature does not fluctuate much. The primary driver of whether it will be a hot day or just a warm day is the cloud cover. The rainy season is thus the cooler season.

An afternoon rainstorm moves across the Amazon.

An afternoon rainstorm moves across the Amazon.

Even still, it was a warm day when we sat on the back patio of the Rempel’s house following a delicious lunch of Stroganoff (a Brazilian favorite) and Cupuaçu pudding. As we listened to their kids having a great time entertaining Selah, Alyx and I got to listen to the hearts and visions of two people who have dedicated their lives to reaching the people of the Amazon.

The Rempel Family

The Rempel Family

Marcio and Kayla Rempel both grew up in Southern Brazil (Kayla in Sao Paulo and Marcio in Curitiba), but moved to the northern part of the country soon after getting married. Their knowledge of missionary aviation and the needs of the missions community of the Brazilian Amazon is unparalleled among those we have spoken with. In addition to being a pilot, Marcio has a degree in Anthropology. Kayla is currently studying Psychology, and has experience in counseling.

As I reflect on our visit to Manaus and our discussions with the Rempel family, I am struck by just how wrong my perceptions were with regard to the state of missionary aviation in the Amazon. Alyx and I have spent a lot of time thinking about what the needs likely would be for this kind of work in Brazil, and naturally, how we could be a part of meeting those needs. If I had to list what I thought were the top 3 needs of aviation ministries in the Amazon, before we left for Brazil, I would have listed my view of the needs in this order:

  1. Money - for the purchase of aircraft and aircraft operations (fuel, maintenance, etc.)

  2. Airstrip construction - needs being both for construction as well as for navigating bureaucracy of certification

  3. People - pilots and mechanics

As one naturally does when considering these three things as the biggest priorities of their next major life project, a lot of our discussion and planning was centered around figuring out how to get money into this space. What businesses could be built to support this work? Which collaborating organizations would have a natural interest in subsidizing this work?

I was also spending an oddly large amount of time considering the issue of airstrip construction. Who builds them? Where are they needed? What regulations go into building an airstrip?

Me to myself, often.

Me to myself, often.

Let me pause here for a moment and acknowledge something that should be discussed, diagnosed, and prayed for. When I start working on a project like this, I am not able, for some reason, to simply look at what my family and I can reasonably do, or even always what the actual needs are, but rather I develop huge expectations of engineering and enacting massive projects of epic proportions that have an extremely high likelihood of resulting in failure as people look on and say “What was he thinking? He wasn’t even meeting the right needs…”

As I was saying, with my relatively naive understanding of what we were getting into, I was developing some anxieties and concerns about how to tackle the massive task of large-scale capital accrual and airstrip development.

I am so thankful that God made it possible for us to visit the experts in this field of aviation this past winter break. It was incredible to spend time speaking to people who have been working in this space  for decades, and who actually have a relatively clear understanding of what the needs actually are, and how to tackle them.

The more time we spent with Marcio and Kayla, the more we felt God reshaping our perceptions of how we could be used in this field. As is most often the case with me, the plan that seems to be actually unfolding is far more simple than the one I was beginning to make for myself.

Marcio began to share with us the great need for pilots that this region has. All across in the Amazon, there are air bases with fully funded aircraft that are sitting in hangars, grounded, because there is no one to fly them. Put simply - this region needs pilots. Marcio himself shared with us that his ministry has funding for a second plane, they have a need for a second plane, but they are having trouble finding pilots to come and fly that second plane.

To put the issue of the pilot shortage in this region into perspective, it is helpful to understand that the issue of a pilot shortage is not limited to this region of the world. I had heard anecdotal accounts of this issue from a variety of people, but it was not until after our trip to Brazil in January that I actually looked into it more seriously for myself.

According to data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the number of active pilots in the United States has dropped significantly over the last 35 years. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the biggest is the fact that the US military is producing far fewer pilots than they used to. According to a 2018 report by MarkWatch, in the 80’s about two-thirds of pilots in the US were ex-military. That number is now less than one-third.

Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source :  FAA

Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: FAA

In addition to the reduction in new pilots entering the field of aviation, the current generation of pilots working in the US is fast approaching retirement. According to a 2016 market outlook report published by Boeing, 42% of the pilots currently flying for the major airlines in the U.S. will reach their mandatory retirement age of 65 in the next 10 years. That means that nearly half of the current pilots flying for the airlines in US right now will no longer be flying for the airlines in the US in 10 years!

This precipitous decline in pilots comes at a time when the demand for new pilots is increasing. Expanding government regulation surrounding mandatory duty time restrictions, a growing number of travelers, and developing aviation economies around the world are all working together to increase the demand for pilots.

Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source :  Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

This shortage of commercial aviation pilots is not limited to the USA. Countries all over the world, including Brazil, are seeing a similar shortage. As the demand for commercial aviation pilots increases, so too do the incentives to work in commercial aviation.

Graduates from pilot training programs, once accruing the necessary amount of flying time, can earn $7,500+ in signing bonuses just for agreeing to work in the private/commercial flying sector. When saddled with a ton of student loan debt used to pay for the pilot training, these incentives can be very appealing.

Typical pilot job advertisement that took me less than 2 minutes to find online.

Typical pilot job advertisement that took me less than 2 minutes to find online.

The result is that niche aviation markets like missionary/NGO Aviation in the Amazon have unmanned, grounded airplanes all over the place. In short, what we encountered as a top need in this region when it comes to mission aviation is pilots!

By simply completing the aviation training here at Moody Aviation, and showing up in Brazil as a ready, willing, and (hopefully) funded pilot, we would be helping to solve a very immediate need in this region. Beyond that, my thoughts are shifting a little bit away from runway construction and toward how to promote aviation in the Amazon to pilots (and potential pilots) in the USA that may be interested in doing this type of work, but don’t know how to begin or where to work.

Photo by   Nicolas Jossi   on   Unsplash

The more we talked with the Rempel’s, however, the more we learned that pilots were not the only growing need in this region. As Kayla shared about some of her passions and aspirations, we quickly realized that this place had another strong need that, especially Alyx, was feeling called to meet.

See you next week!

P.S. - If you have some time, feel free to browse around our site and learn more about our vision. If you want to help support our cause, please visit our Ways to Help page to learn more! Thank you.

Sam Burns