GA responds to Japanese disasters

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) immediately went to work providing information on its website informing members how they can meet the severe logistical challenges of moving their personnel and equipment out of the ravaged nation.

The website carries as much current information that is available about Japanese airport conditions, any “no-fly zones,” airspace restrictions, and other information to help business flight operations to and within the affected areas.

Included was information about the efforts of AERObridge, which coordinates emergency aviation response during disasters, including GA humanitarian efforts.

Only two minutes after United States news media announced Japan was bracing for a tsunami, the phone rang at AERObridge’s Washington, D.C., offices. The caller said a help group was ready to go and an aircraft would be needed.

Companies and individuals donate their aircraft and pilots for humanitarian missions of all kinds, in all places. AERObridge, an all-volunteer organization, began after Hurricane Katrina. At first it was an organization for aircraft, but has since grown to include all types of transportation.

For the Japanese disaster, much of the demand for aircraft lies in the large transport category, with many corporations using their planes for the evacuation of their own personnel, while offering available seats to others.

At the time I spoke with AERObridge, a cargo aircraft was loading with 20,000 pounds of baby food, diapers, and other needed goods to takeoff in a short time with its destination Japan.

Logistics mean the jet segment of general aviation is the primary need between the United States and Japan, but other pilots can help transport rescue workers and others from their home bases to hubs where they can catch cargo or commercial flights to Japan.

Helping out in disasters is just one instance of how general aviation moves in with volunteer planes, personnel, and equipment. It also is critical in medical transport, with many businesses offering empty seats on their company planes to those in need, while other GA pilots fly Angel Flights and other similar missions.

When Katrina struck, many doctors flew their aircraft into the area to assist. Other pilots went into small airports with goods and flew out those who needed assistance to safer grounds.

After the hurricane in Haiti, everything from Cessna Caravans to a Boeing 757 was flown by volunteers to take aid to that stricken island. Food, medical supplies, and equipment literally covered all the unoccupied space on the main airport and volunteer pilots with smaller aircraft pitched in to fly help from the main airport to smaller communities throughout the island. Only recently, The Washington Post reported about a pilot who used his Cessna for hours every day for nearly three weeks following the hurricane to carry morphine, antibiotics, and surgical saws to medial outposts where medical procedures — including amputations — were taking place without this vital equipment.

AERObridge is but one of the several organizations helping to coordinate general aviation’s efforts for humanitarian aid. NBAA has its program called the Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator (HERO). The HERO database includes a a list of people in the business aviation community who are part of disaster-response mobilization efforts. In the aftermath of major crises, basic information from the database is provided to organizations coordinating relief efforts.

General aviation has long served people and places in need. Remember, all of this is volunteered. No payment is accepted or given. AERObridge, itself, is an all-volunteer organization, as are most of the aviation-assisting groups.

Those who think of business aviation and the people down the street who fly their own or rented aircraft as “fat cats” should check out this part of what general aviation does — not just serving its needs, but serving the total population.


Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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