In the wake of several natural disasters throughout the U.S. — including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the wildfires throughout the western states — FBOs have become an integral part of the disaster relief efforts.
“Their tireless efforts to stage and provide fuel and services for the military, medevac operations, the American Red Cross, firefighting operations, and more have been a tremendous help for affected communities and exemplify the ‘do good’ spirit of aviation,” said Craig Sincock, CEO, president and owner of Avfuel Corporation. “It’s been an honor to hear the stories of those FBOs participating in disaster relief. For our team to hear how emergency fuel-supply serves FBOs and communities is humbling; the causes they have supported are truly inspiring.”Over the course of the past few weeks, the Avfuel team reports it has heard the trials, tribulations and triumphs of some of its FBOs in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. These operations were just a few of the relief efforts in which FBOs throughout the country continue to participate, Avfuel officials note.
Astin Aviation (KCLL) in College Station, Texas, became the single-staging point for military helicopters, fast boat rescue, FEMA, commercial air ambulance traffic, and C-130 supply aircraft performing search, rescue and recovery missions throughout Houston and Beaumont without any advanced warning.
Air operations for disaster relief were being conducted around the clock, with the FBO’s line staff and customer service representatives working 12-hour shifts to accommodate the fuel and logistics requirements of more than 100 airmen, soldiers and sailors.
For 48 continuous hours, Astin Aviation fielded calls from an array of military segments asking if the FBO could take more aircraft. The team’s answer was always the same: “Bring it on.”
Bohlke International Airways’ ramp at Henry E Rohlsen Airport (STX) in St. Croix is normally full in-season with private aircraft carrying business travelers and vacationers in St. Croix, but is now full with military operations carrying government aid and volunteers for locations throughout the Caribbean in the wake of disaster.
Having narrowly missed the massively destructive eyewall of Hurricane Irma by 43 miles on Sept. 6, 2017, Bohlke International Airways’ St. Croix FBO and Part 145 repair station remains one of the only unharmed general aviation facilities in the Caribbean.
STX is the closest operating airport to some of the locations most heavily affected by Hurricane Irma, including St. Thomas, St. John and the British Virgin Islands. That means Bohlke International Airways’ STX FBO has become the staging hub for international relief efforts. They are also facilitating rescue and relief efforts for St. Maarten and St. Barths.
It is temporarily home to the U.S. Air Force; U.S. Navy; U.S. Marines; Air National Guard; Federal Emergency Management Agency; American Red Cross; Salvation Army; medevac services like AeroMD; and privately-owned aircraft sent to supplement relief efforts, with more arriving daily.
“The response has been astounding,” said Ashley Bouzianis, director of marketing for Bohlke International Airways. “As soon as it was safe for operations to begin, we received an influx of traffic to facilitate the relief of devastated communities. The Caribbean has a long road of healing ahead of it, but with support from the air, hopefully we can help facilitate that healing a little faster.”
Sheltair assisted “hurricane hunter” aircraft from its Lakeland, Florida, facility as part of its ongoing efforts to support government, military and general aviation operations prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irma. Through Saturday, Sept. 9, it provided refueling services to aircraft belonging to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In addition to those heading toward the storm, Sheltair helped those seeking shelter from both Hurricane Harvey and Irma. In the aftermath of Harvey, Sheltair Pompano (PMP) received a relief flight with displaced animals rescued by local volunteers from Big Dog Ranch Rescue. One shelter alone needed to place 56 dogs.
Shortly thereafter, Sheltair’s New York FBO locations received flights through Saturday, Sept. 9, with families and groups of unrelated passengers packing into aircraft seeking safety and shelter from Irma.
Assistance and ground support included an animal rescue flight with more than 60 crates of dogs and cats from the Miami area seeking safety and shelter.
With 12 FBOs in Florida and Georgia, normal operations for the Sheltair network have halted in some locations. The company keeps an update list of opened and closed locations on its website.
In addition, the company has set up a 24/7 call center out of its Islip, New York (ISP), location. Anyone who attempts to call a location that is temporarily closed is rerouted to Sheltair’s 800 number where a representative is available to provide the latest update.
Sheltair’s call center will remain active until every location’s communications are up and running throughout Florida and Georgia.