By Carol Lee Anderson
NEW HAMPSHIRE — The significance of local general aviation airports and the role they play during an emergency situation often go unnoticed by most, but victims of Hurricane Sandy quickly realized their importance after the Super Storm.
Within hours of calls for help from people in New York and New Jersey, efforts within the aviation community were well underway. During these situations, even the smallest local airport quickly becomes part of a much larger aviation system. Many times air-borne relief efforts are the only way to get supplies to victims as roads are often blocked after storms or earthquakes. Local commercial airports aid in the transport of supplies to and from more rural locations, expanding the areas donations can reach.
New Hampshire’s aviation relief efforts were organized by AERObridge, a national organization comprised of experienced aviation specialists that coordinate the emergency response of the aviation community during natural disasters, both here and abroad. When AERObridge needed pilots to fly donated supplies from New Hampshire to the areas hardest hit by the hurricane, there was no lack of pilots willing to donate their time, airplanes, and fuel to fly donations into Republic Airport on Long Island, N.Y. The donations, once delivered, were distributed to relief organizations and then directly to the victims.
Pilots Jim Murphy and John Wilson, connected to each other by AERObridge, agreed to meet at Nashua Airport. Murphy had put out a call for donations and was very quickly overwhelmed with the amount coming in. They used Wilson’s plane to load 900 pounds of supplies, including diapers, wipes, and food and took off towards the storm-damaged areas.
Adding to the list of New Hampshier pilots donating their time were 10 pilots who came together in a team effort at Parlin Field in Newport. Lou Edmonds of Edmonds Aircraft Service was quick to donate the use of his hangar to house the donations as they came into the airport. Edmonds and his wife, Sherry, along with Parlin Airport Manager Heath Marsden, and wife, Angie, worked to bag and weigh the 1,500 pounds of donations the night before their flight to New York. Former manager Russ Kelsea and his wife, Judy, prepared the remaining donations on the morning of the flight. Due to the number of donations, not all were flown in the first round of relief flights. A helicopter pilot from Parlin Field flew the remaining donations a few days later.
One of the pilots, Rick Kloeppel, recently described the experience, telling of how the air traffic controllers at Boston-Logan International Airport were notified ahead of time of the mission of the flights. Controllers had received a full briefing on the “compassion flights” and worked to get all six airplanes through the heavily-congested airspace around the airport as directly and as quickly as possible.
Kloeppel was amazed at the efforts of everyone involved, saying, “We loaded the machines so fast and were so busy at Parlin, then, at Republic Airport, the ground team was all over the inbound airplanes. They were very, very efficient! Frankly, I was stunned that we were able to make any of it happen on two days’ notice, but Heath, our manager, understands fully how to reach out to the community, whether it is through social media or by finding the right organizations that are able to get the message out. The local Chamber of Commerce and fraternal groups responded way faster than I imagined. The folks at Republic were very accommodating and efficient.”
Diane Cooper, airport manager of Laconia Municipal Airport located in Gilford, New Hampshire, is well-aware of the importance of the 24 public-use of airports in New Hampshire as well as those located throughout the country. Cooper is a member of the outreach committee of the Granite State Airport Management Association. The organization works tirelessly to educate the public’s understanding of aviation and the value of the state’s aviation system.
“Most people don’t realize that the relief efforts for disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, often begin at our local airports,” she explained. “Small airports can immediately turn into donation centers where the public can drop off much-needed disaster supplies. These supplies can then be sent immediately to where they are needed, mostly by mercy flights that are donated by general aviation pilots with their aircraft.