Flight Plan

Taking the world under their wings

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on January 23, 2018

Relief material being loaded on to Air Côte d'Ivoire's latest A320 at Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France

Humanitarian action by Airbus Foundation with Air Mauritius

When natural disasters strike, aircraft-makers are quick to offer help. Both Airbus and Boeing have been using test flights to ferry humanitarian aid to crisis-hit communities across the globe, writes Ashwini Phadnis

It was not just Dubai-based Emirates Airlines that was keenly awaiting the arrival of its 98th Airbus A380 test flight on October 9 last year – those with the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) in the city were hoping that the aircraft would reach sooner as they were awaiting the 1,020 tarpaulins and ropes that the aircraft was carrying.

These goods, which are among the 10 most-needed immediate humanitarian aid items, were meant to create temporary shelters for 500 displaced families in crisis-hit areas.

Aircraft-makers take the lead

This was not just a one-off goodwill or delivery flight – since 2013, 125 tonnes of goods have been transported as humanitarian aid as. part of a cooperation between Emirates Airlines and Airbus Foundation to utilise A380 Emirates deliveries for transporting humanitarian aid to UNHRD.

Airbus organised the first goodwill flight in November 2008, with an A330, for Avianca, and the aircraft manufacturer organised its first relief flight using an Airbus-owned test aircraft in November 2009, with an A380, to Dubai Humanitarian City.

As of November 30, 2017, Airbus’ last delivery goodwill flights were organised with Air Mauritius and Air Cote d’Ivoire.

An Airbus spokesperson told BusinessLine that till November 30, 2017, the aircraft manufacturer had organised 64 goodwill and relief flights, which helped transport 800 tonnes (800,000 kg) and 400 personnel, such as aid workers and relief staff, to areas struck by natural disasters.

Boeing not far behind

Like Airbus, the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing, too, has been using its flights for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Since October 1992, when the first Humanitarian Delivery Flight with World Concerns and Ethiopian Airlines took off, almost 200 flights have been organised, helping transport 1.6 million pounds of supplies (almost 720,000 kg), a Boeing spokesperson told BusinessLine.

The idea of starting goodwill flights was first conceived by Boeing’s Customer Relations team to help customers better assist their local communities.

And it was also obvious to Airbus’ teams at the Flight Test Department and the Customer Delivery Department that the full transport capacity of a customer aircraft, and its own test aircraft, could be used for humanitarian flights.

“The airline customers decide if they would like to use their delivery flights to carry humanitarian goods. Then Boeing works to connect them with non-profits and to assist with logistics,” the Boeing spokesperson added.

Along with aircraft manufacturers, airlines, too, need to be lauded for allowing humanitarian aid to be transported. And there are many airlines that are joining the cause.

For example, a few days after the delivery of Emirates A380 in October 2017, it was the turn of Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing to celebrate the delivery of yet another Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which carried goods donated by medical organisations in the United States to Black Lion Hospital and St Paul Hospital in Ethiopia – this was Ethiopian Airlines 32nd humanitarian delivery flight.

“No airline has provided such sustained support to the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the African continent,” said Tewolde Gebre Mariam, Group Chief Executive Officer, Ethiopian Airlines. It is one of the nearly 50 airline customers that participate in Boeing’s Humanitarian Delivery Flight programme. Typically, goodwill flights carry medical and sanitary equipments, high nutritious food items, clothing, school supplies and emergency relief equipments, such as tarpaulins and ropes that are needed soon after a natural disaster.

“On a regular basis we also transport kidney dialysis machines from a hospital in Toulouse to a hospital in Hanoi. Both hospitals have a cooperation and we use a customer aircraft [Vietnam Airlines] for the transport,” an Airbus spokesman said.

A Boeing spokesperson added that while medical supplies are the most common, educational books, toys and clothing for non-profits have also been transported by the goodwill flights.

Once the goods arrive at the home base of the airline, they are taken by truck/bus to a Boeing delivery centre. The NGO, in the receiving country, gets the supplies through the Customs and either uses them or distribute them to the affected community. Most international partners are hospitals and universities.

The Airbus spokesman added that for relief flights with Airbus test aircraft, it is their NGO partners such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that make a request for the goods.

“For ferries, it is a combination of the Airbus Foundation facilitating between NGO partners and customers,” the spokesman added. But whoever the partner be, it is noteworthy that the goods are reaching those who need them the most.

Published on January 23, 2018

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