Aviation charity seeks to boost ties with business aviation


Disabled flying charity Aerobility wants to strengthen ties with the global business aviation community for mutual benefit, its CEO Mike Miller-Smith told Corporate Jet Investor.

“Disability is a broad church and we work with all disability types – whether it is a youngster with autism, someone wounded in military or other service or someone with a disability like myself,” explained Miller-Smith, speaking ahead of Aerobility’s Armchair Airshow 2021 at London Biggin Hill Airport. “The aim is to give someone not just the chance to fly but to take the controls and fly and eventually be in charge of that aeroplane and in charge of their own destiny.”

The benefits of empowering people to fly an aircraft extend far beyond the cockpit, according to Miller-Smith. “Once someone realises they can fly an aeroplane, it raises the question: If I can fly, what else can I do? So, we find it opens the door to new confidence and new skills.”

Based at Blackbushe Airport, Hampshire, southern UK, the disabled flying charity Aerobility represents the needs of disabled people and offers anyone with any disability the opportunity to learn to fly and to take part in aviation-based activities. It also operates from Tatenhill Airfield in the English Midlands. Over the charity’s 28-year history, the group has built strong links with organisations such as UK air traffic controller NATS, aviation software company Aerobytes and London Biggin Hill Airport. Each year, the organisation aims to improve the lives of more than 1,000 disabled people.

More than 1,000 disable people

“We are very much enabled by the aviation community,” he said. “But if there is a part of the industry we are not doing so much with, it’s the business aviation community. We would very much like to build enduring partnerships that are symbiotic with obvious benefits to both parties.”

Charities need two things: funds to operate and people to volunteer at events and on other occasions, he explained. Business aviation companies could help in both ways. For example, companies could enable their staff to help organise an Aerobility fund-raising wing walk event, other fund raising activities or offer specialist skills and expertise.

The benefits for benefactors are easy to see, said Miller-Smith. “It’s about staff satisfaction and engagement. It’s about staff feeling good about doing something that is not their normal job.”

Another advantage is raising disability awareness. “In business aviation, disability awareness is not as good as it could be in terms of staff awareness or access to corporate aircraft. So, by starting the conversation and raising awareness of disability, the industry will become more effective as a social tool.”

Although Aerobility operates mainly in the UK, it is receiving more requests for information from around the world, as awareness in disability challenges and opportunities grows, according to the charity. UK aviation has an enviable reputation in engaging with the disabled community, said Miller-Smith. “Aerobility has trained hundreds of disabled people to fly. One of the things I’m really proud of now, is that on British airfield a plane can pull up and park. The pilot then climbs out and puts a wheelchair together and then wheels off as the pilot of that aeroplane.”

‘Trained hundreds of disable people to fly’

One business supporter is Edwin Brenninkmeyer, CEO and founder of Oriens Aviation. “I’m enormously passionate about what Aerobility is doing in enabling everyone – all manner of people – to fly an aeroplane. It is astonishing.”  Brenninkmeyer, who started flying at 14 and earned his Private Pilot’s Licence at 17, added: “I’m passionate about the bringing the joys of aviation to other people and to people less fortunate than myself.”

Aerobility’s Armchair Airshow 2021 was livestreamed from London Biggin Hill Airport on Saturday, May 29th. Taking part in the live flying display were: a World War 2 Spitfire, a Dakota transport aircraft (known in North America as a Douglas C-47 Skytrain) and a jet-assisted Pitts biplane display aircraft. Virtual displays featured the Royal Canadian Air Force’s display team, The Snowbirds and the British Red Arrows and the historic B17 Sally B aircraft.

By mid-June, the Airshow, featuring live and pre-recorded interviews and flights, had been watched by more than 30,000 viewers across Youtube and Facebook worldwide.

Event sponsors, in addition to Oriens Aviation included: aviation software company Aerobytes,  Bombardier, London Biggin Hill Airport, insurance firm Hayward Aviation, UK air traffic controller NATS, aviation services business 2Excel , the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Emerald Media, R5 Air Displays , MRO firm JetMS, aircraft interior, exterior and completions company RAS.

Meanwhile, more information about Aerobility is available here and about the Armchair Airshow 2021 here. If you have information about how business aviation is engaging in charitable projects, please contact Mike Stones.


What they said about Armchair Airshow 2021

Mike Miller-Smith, Aerobility CEO

Everyone at Aerobility is excited to be delivering Armchair Airshow 2021. Whilst we bring aviation to homes everywhere, we are also raising funds for the Armchair Airshow Flying Scholarship – this fund will enable us to change the lives of more young people with disability by teaching them how to fly. This is the purpose and importance of the show. Our hope is that the entire aviation community will find a way to make a contribution to the fund and support disabled flying.”

Colin Hitchins, London Biggin Hill Airport head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability

We are delighted to be working on the Armchair Airshow with Aerobility. The work the charity does is so important and we are pleased to make our contribution to the fund. Our hope is that this will encourage the rest of the industry to do the same.”

Grant Shapps, UK Secretary of State for Transport (DfT) and private pilot

“The UK Airshow Calendar has been much disrupted this past year, but it takes more than a pandemic to discourage the team at Aerobility.

“For the second year in succession they have done an incredible job to put on the Armchair Airshow and they deserve massive credit, supported by Biggin Hill Airport, with another opportunity to raise thousands of pounds to help more disabled people experience the joy of flying and aircraft for themselves. When you have a disability that restricts you in your daily life flying a plane can be hugely liberating and empowering.”


Top: Mike Miller-Smith, Aerobility CEO, is pictured in his ‘other office’ in the air.

Below: A disabled pilot is hoisted in the captain’s seat of an Aerobility training aircraft.