More than two years have lapsed since a magnitude-7 earthquake rocked Haiti, but the nation is still reeling from the crisis. Thousands of miles to the east, the impoverished Horn of Africa is also in turmoil, devastated by war and famine. While these situations tend to elicit public sympathy and little more, some companies are turning that compassion into action.
Whether transporting goods to affected regions or personally visiting the nations with relief teams, airfreight has emerged as the best option in providing humanitarian relief, numerous exports say.
On a mission
Turbine Aircraft Services President Pat Cannon admits that airfreight wasn’t the only mode his company considered when it shipped humanitarian goods to Haiti on behalf of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America in late 2010. Seafreight was arguably cheaper, he explains, but the earthquake rendered many of the Haitian seaports unusable. Air cargo proved to be the best bet. MHIA purchased space on a Miami-based freight carrier’s Boeing 767 and flew the goods — which consisted of portable light towers and gasoline generators — to nearby Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. “And from Santo Domingo, they put the equipment on trucks and shipped it back to Haiti because we were having trouble getting any kind of arrival priority at the Haitian [airports],” Cannon says.
One and a half years later, Cannon considers MHIA’s endeavor a resounding success. The generators and light towers, which helped illuminate dark areas and enabled rescue workers to locate missing citizens, are still being used in Haiti today. Company spokesman Scott Sobel also points to the utility of the light fixtures.
“If you look at the news, one of the biggest problems Haiti is facing right now is light,” he says. “Because everyone’s still living in tents, they no longer have light sources. So these generators are really important to [the people of Haiti] — even today as much as they were two years ago.”
AERObridge President Marianne Stevenson praises this and other relief missions. Stevenson, who matches aircraft with emergency response teams and humanitarian goods in times of crisis, has vast experience shipping items overseas. Key to the success of AERObridge’s missions, she says, is finding the space on donated aircraft to transport supplies.
“For us, it’s a matter of knowing where the available space is and then matching that space available to the needs that are out there,” she says.
After all, Stevenson says, “If you can move supplies, you’re going to be able to solve a lot of problems.”
Some of the donor companies AERObridge partners with collect medicine and pharmaceutical equipment; others assemble food and hygiene items. Regardless of the type of product, Stevenson says, the biggest hindrance to relief missions is the costs associated with transportation. “So we take a look at the big picture and prioritize what [goods] are coming in from our partners,” she says. AERObridge also coordinates ground transportation for the items once they leave the aircraft. Suppose, for example, that two donors are shipping pharmaceuticals to Haiti. Stevenson says that AERObridge serves as a middleman and brings the companies together so that they can minimize their trucking costs.
“And so, again, looking at a larger picture than just one donor and one location,” she says, “we help everybody maximize their resources.”
Carriers operating out of the Middle East are especially attractive to AERObridge. She says the organization is currently scouting out freight carriers that are willing to transport space-available humanitarian supplies from Dubai.
“There is a lot of connectivity between the U.S. and the first world to the Middle East and from the Middle East outward to third-world countries. The air cargo options are immense,” she says.
AERObridge is currently organizing an initiative to provide nonprofit organizations with donated space-available transportation through cargo carriers. The organization has also been coordinating aircraft space for multiple relief flights to Eastern and Western Africa, which are scheduled for the next few months.
Although Stevenson admits that the crippled economy has affected some companies’ abilities to give, she says AERObridge’s unique business model has served it well.
“If you can take the space-available concept and plug in what needs to go to certain destinations with transportation that’s free, then the donor dollars of the nonprofits that we work with go much further because they’re not paying for the transportation costs,” she says. “It’s a big plus.”
Stevenson is currently trying to convince carriers with extra space to donate the capacity to AERObridge for relief flights. Unfortunately, she says, many cargo airlines don’t join humanitarian causes because for the simple reason that nobody asks carrier officials to lend a helping hand.
Stevenson says the need for freight transportation is always present, however. “There’s always a nonprofit organization that wants to get supplies from point A to point B, so it’s a matter of knowing where the available space is and then matching that space available to the needs that are out there,” Stevenson says.
The logistics of planning
When disaster strikes and UPS needs to charter an aircraft for one of its six Humanitarian Relief program partners — UNICEF, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations World Food Programme, Red Cross, CARE and the Salvation Army — Esther Ndichu, the integrator’s humanitarian and supply chain manager, says she looks at UPS’ network and determines where there are available flights. “In some cases, we may have to reposition an aircraft or operate on days when we have planes sitting at one of our regional hubs,” she says.
UPS also occasionally works with its regional freight forwarders to coordinate the pick up and delivery of relief items. One procedure the Humanitarian Relief team always follows, however, is verifying the flight details with the nongovernmental organization that is supplying the relief. The team then reviews the plan with each group involved with the shipment, Ndichu says.
“On the actual day of the shipment, we are in constant communication with the crew on the ground, the loadmasters, our capacity management team and the destination to ensure a seamless execution,” she says.
Such attention to detail was exhibited on UPS’ series of charter flights to Nairobi, Kenya, last summer. Food items took precedence on the flights, she says. “The demand for ready-to-eat, therapeutic foods to save severely malnourished children led to a spike in the number of relief flights into Kenya,” Ndichu says.
UPS isn’t the only integrator that gets in on the humanitarian action. In 2011, FedEx flew roughly 91 tonnes of food to Nairobi on behalf of UNICEF. Following the August flight, the logistics provider announced an additional relief flight to the Horn of Africa. “The in-kind donations currently make FedEx the single largest provider of philanthropic airlifts of aid for UNICEF in response to the famine in Somalia,” according to a press release issued by FedEx.
But for FedEx and other aviaton companies, supplying aid is more than just donating available space for the transportation of goods. In February, FedEx banded together with ORBIS’ Flying Eye Hospital program to bring resources and professional assistance to eye-care providers in the Philippines.
The 11th iteration of the program in the country since 1982 included a two-week training program in Iloilo and a one-week workshop in Bacolod. The American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines recently recognized the long-term collaboration between FedEx and ORBIS with a CSR Excellence Award. “FedEx team members around the globe have supported ORBIS for more than three decades,” James Parker, executive vice president of FedEx Express Air Operations, said in a statement. “Our pilots volunteer to fly the plane on its sight-saving missions around the world; ORBIS pilots train here in Memphis at the FedEx Express flight simulator; our mechanics provide maintenance support; and we donate the use of our unparalleled network and our aviation expertise.”
Ndichu says that UPS also contributed to humanitarian efforts in another significant way in 2011, donating more than $2.7 million in in-kind transportation. And of the countless memorable relief flights, she says that the last of the charters delivering aid to Nairobi — a Boeing 747 that departed from UPS’ Cologne hub — will always stand out in her mind.
“The relief freight was for both UNICEF and WFP,” she says, “and it took more coordination than usual to fit all the pieces together. From the UNICEF side, we had to reposition a flight in Copenhagen to pick up the volume.”
The flight also had a brush with royalty, as the volume transported coincided with a UNICEF event involving the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
“That definitely added to the pressure of ensuring a flawless execution in Copenhagen,” Ndichu says. Plus, the WFP goods had to be trucked from France to Germany and then consolidated with the UNICEF load, she says. Ndichu’s team has also received inquiries regarding freight flights into war-torn Syria. UPS is currently working with the WFP and Logistics Emergency Team in neighboring Turkey to assess its strategy for delivering aid to the Syrians either by air, sea or on the ground in trucks.
To her, such initiatives speak to her team’s commitment to foreign aid. In fact, Ndichu says, “We believe that we can make a world of difference in the world by working with partners who have expertise in saving lives and delivering aid to those in need.”