In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which dumped record amounts of rain in North Carolina and South Carolina, general aviation stepped up to help the people who needed help the most.
Actually, the work began before the big storm hit.
A week before Florence’s landfall on Sept. 14, 2018, volunteers with Operation Airdrop sprang into action with its network of volunteers and supporters.
The advance planning and reviewing of possible locations to base operations were the primary consideration. Contacting sponsors and local volunteers was the next priority.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (KRDU) in North Carolina was chosen as the base of operations. The TAC-AIR FBO donated a space under renovation to house the relief operations effort.
The organization then began to build the needed processes, as well as identify contacts to enable the transfer of relief supplies to affected communities throughout the state.
Operation AirDrop grew out of general aviation relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
One of the founders, Doug Jackson, took a trailer load of supplies to Lockport, Texas, and gave the supplies away to folks in need in the area. Doug owns a STOL Cessna 340 and he then thought, “why not use GA to support this distribution of supplies?”
He connected with some like-minded colleagues in Texas and Operation AirDrop was born. From that time, the organization has continued to grow, helping out in the aftermath of other storms.
One of those colleagues was Brian Kelly, vice president of Western operations, who was an Air Force navigator and its now an air traffic controller at Dallas Love Field.
Brian was one of the primary leaders to arrive early in Raleigh and he immediately began addressing the myriad of issues for this ad-hoc supply chain management with volunteer operators.
Also on hand was Ethan Garrity, a member of Operation Airdrop’s board of directors, who was tasked with coordinating supply drop-offs and distribution at airports around the state.
As can be imagined, receiving, sorting, weighing, prioritizing, palletizing, loading and transporting supply relief items is the essence of chaos management. But Operation Airdrop functioned smoothly, fulfilling requests for supplies and support usually within three hours. Think about that: That is three hours from the time a community phoned in a request, to the time the items were received.
Operation AirDrop succeeds in managing the chaos of this volunteer organization by inserting experienced professionals in key functions of the operation.
According to officials, Operation AirDrop considers itself a surge operation to provide community support until other support — both government and non-government — arrives in full.
Over six days of operation in Raleigh (KRDU), Operation AirDrop averaged some 94 mission flights each day. These flights were accomplished by 30 to 40 pilots daily. And each mission averaged more than 500 pounds of relief supplies delivered to distressed communities.
Operated under the Air Care Alliance, each flight carried the “Compassion” call sign. The Air Care Alliance is a non-profit organization with more than 50 general aviation charities supporting the mission of transporting people and supplies at no cost to the public.
Pilots Answer the Call
Jon Beliveau of Goldsboro, North Carolina, flew his Piper PA-28R into KRDU to help with relief efforts. He could ferry 500 pounds of supplies in his 50-year-old airplane. Jon was impressed with the volunteers and also noted that after his delivery, the people in Lumberton, North Carolina, were very appreciative of the support. Jon also noted that the ATC support in KRDU was great considering the increased number of departures and arrivals.
Craig Drake of Waxhaw, North Carolina, flew his Cessna TR-182 to relief areas. He was able to haul 500 pounds of supplies each mission and noted that he enjoyed “helping people out.” This was his first time being involved in a relief effort using his airplane. Craig also noted that Operation AirDrop made the logistical nightmare workable.
John Crawford of Greenville, North Carolina, flew his Cessna C-421B and was able to carry 700 pounds of relief supplies into Wilmington (KILM). John and his co-pilot, Chris Keel, loaded the relief supplies and ensured proper weight and balance. John noted that he was very impressed with the logistics for the relief operation and even more so with the number of folks who were willing to donate their time and resources for the well-being of others.
Larry Starr, a pilot and A&P, flew his Mooney M20A and carried some 400 pounds on a mission to Columbus, North Carolina. He commented that he was impressed with the coordination and operation on the ramp, the loading operation, the refueling, and personal safety procedures. His only regret about supporting the relief effort was that he didn’t have a larger plane to carry more.
Brad Ballard is a corporate pilot from Youngsville, North Carolina, who volunteered and led the dispatch operations for Operation AirDrop. Brad is a former Air Force member and his professional experience was instrumental to the success of aligning pilots with cargo and destination assignments. Brad, who is a member of EAA Chapter 1114, also has experience with search and rescue from his formative years in Rhode Island.
Curtis and Raquel Boyd of Raleigh are active in supporting their community. They volunteer with their church, Grace Bible Fellowship in Cary, and came out to the airport as pilot support and initial hosts for the pilots.
I flew my Cessna 310Q with co-pilot John Gatlin of Fayetteville, North Carolina, making several flights to Cape Fear (KSUT) with payloads of 500 pounds. We found the ramp safety procedures were impressive and no incidents were noted in more than 517 flight missions.
A short video of the Day 3 and Day 4 operations is available on YouTube.