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Cargo for a cause: The logistics of saving lives

Cargo for a cause: The logistics of saving lives

By Hpanchal on March 28, 2012

“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.”

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