Soaring Fuel Price Forces Mission Group to Make Cuts

Rocketing fuel prices has forced a mission group that provides air transportation to missionaries to cut operation costs by 10 percent in an effort to maintain the same level of flight services.

"It is a serious crisis," said David Fyock, Mission Aviation Fellowship vice president of resources. "Automobile gasoline in the United States is expected to reach $5 per gallon or higher.

"Today, MAF has no choice but to pay as much as $13 a gallon for aviation gas – or 'avgas' – overseas. That means it costs about $234 an hour in fuel alone to run an airplane. Some MAF programs are already anticipating $18 per gallon."

Founded in 1945, MAF is a faith-based, non-profit ministry that serves missions and isolated people around the world with aviation, communications and learning technologies. It has a fleet of 134 aircraft that flies to the most remote regions of the world. MAF serves in 51 countries with an average of 281 flights daily across Africa, Asia, Eurasia and Latin America.

The ministry said it cannot ask its clients to pick up the entire fuel cost increase, so it is absorbing more of those costs.

Not only are avgas prices reaching record-high levels, but there is also a shortage of this kind of gas overseas.

"According to the United Nations, between 1995 and 2005, world export of avgas has declined to 175,000 metric tons from 310,000 metric tons – a whopping 43.5 percent reduction," Fyock said. "For all users of avgas, this means fierce competition for a dwindling supply," he said.

Because the areas in which MAF operates is so remote, the ministry has to stockpile fuel. As a result, the amount of money tied up in fuel inventory is twice what it was a year ago.

"The problem is so serious that after much negotiating, our Indonesia flight programs recently had to buy fuel in one large bulk order – enough for three months of flight operations," Fyock said. "The cost to MAF was a staggering half a million dollars!"

The MAF official admits that not much can be done in the short-term, other than raise more funding. However, he hopes new technology will create aircrafts that uses jet fuel instead of avgas. Jet fuel worldwide is about one-third the price of avgas. Diesel engines could replace current avgas engines as well, which also would reduce the cost of fuel, Fyock added.

"The bottom line is all mission organizations need to raise more money to help fund their ministries," said Fyock. "Many believe high fuel costs are here to stay."

Food for the Hungry, an international Christian relief and development organization, has also recently complained that the higher gas price is increasing the price of food due to transportation and production costs. The increased costs of food means less food can be bought.

Other charities say high fuel prices are causing some supporters to cut back their donations to cover their own increased expenses.

Lutheran Social Services, for instance, reported a 47 percent drop in donations in the first five months of this year to $1.9 million.

According to the auto club AAA on Wednesday, the national average price for a gallon of regular gas is $4.108 a gallon – an all-time high. Alaska has the highest gas price in the nation at an average of $4.615 a gallon. Californians pay an average of $4.552 for a gallon of gas, while Hawaiians pay $4.456.

South Carolina has the lowest gas price in the nation at an average of $3.930.

One year ago, retail gas prices were around $3 a gallon.