A ministry watchdog has launched ‘Pastor Planes,’ an online service that tracks how often ministry-owned aircraft fly around the country.
The service was started by the Trinity Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit dedicated to “tracking religious fraud and helping victims,” on July 1st. Trinity designed the service with the “objective of bringing financial transparency to churches, ministries and Christian universities using privately owned aircraft.” The service currently tracks about 50 different ministry aircraft.
The service posts presently a listing of who flew daily, along with listed locations, the plane type, and other relevant details. The Trinity Foundation has spent several years investigating the excess use of airlines and has reported such practices in the past.
“By our calculations, there are days when more than $100,000 is spent on private-jet and charter-jet travel by televangelists, ministry executives, and Christian university personnel.” writes Trinity’s communication team. The service’s operator, Barry Bowen, told Ministry Watch that “Our focus is primarily on aircraft usage that we consider to be poor stewardship,”
Private airplanes have often been a severe point of criticism for some ministries. In 2019, televangelist Kenneth Copeland received negative feedback for his use of three private airplanes. The news outlet Inside Edition discovered that Copeland had used said private airplanes to fly over to his vacation home at least 143 times.
Bowen argues that most ministry leaders could likely rely on commercial aircraft for professionals, thus saving their ministries millions of dollars annually. While there are situations where a private airplane could be helpful (such as accessing low-traffic areas or expediently traveling to a high-risk location), many of the recorded cases do not fit such a description.