ATW Editor's Blog

Airline & aviation workers’ heroic acts in disaster-hit regions


Harvey, Katia, Irma, Jose, Maria: a terrible family of destruction. And the brutal 2017 Atlantic hurricane season still has weeks to run and could potentially add more names to fear. I’d like to recognize here the ongoing dedication by the people of the commercial aviation industry who continue to support relief and aid efforts across all the regions affected.

I’ve heard many stories from passenger and cargo airline executives of employees stationed in the affected areas who insisted on staying put through the storms so that they were immediately available to get operations back up and running as soon as possible. FAA employees made similar commitments and stayed in place, on duty.

Airlines have laid on extra flights to get people out of harm’s way. They delivered supplies, including satellite phones, to places in the paths of hurricane tracks, and continue those critical supply missions.

American Airlines, with a major hub in Miami, reported how many crew members, some on their days off, drove or flew to Miami ahead of Hurricane Irma so flights wouldn’t be cancelled due to crew availability. “Team members outside of Florida even opened their homes so their colleagues would have a place to stay once they evacuated. And nearly 200 team members chose to stay behind so that their colleagues could tend to their families,” American said.

The story is the same across all the airlines, of people stepping up and putting the needs of others first. Airlines are also raising millions of dollars in aid donations, incentivizing people by giving miles for every dollar donated to disaster relief funds.

Some airlines have even been helping the hundreds of dogs and cats that lost homes in the hurricanes, working with animal welfare organizations to transport them to safety. Here’s a story of a Southwest Airlines flight that flew 64 dogs and cats out of Texas in crates buckled on to the seats and floor in the main cabin of a Boeing 737 that was about to be retired.

Airlink, a US non-profit focused on mobilizing the aviation industry to transport relief workers and emergency supplies, has teamed with other airlift organizations to coordinate flights from the US to the Caribbean to deliver food, medical supplies, emergency shelters and equipment to help establish clean water access, sanitation, power and telecommunications.  A volunteer fleet of light aircraft arranged by the PALS Sky Hope program is distributing supplies to the smaller islands. Airlink’s ongoing missions also include those in earthquake-struck Mexico and in areas still struggling to recover from the Hurricane Harvey floods. Airlink has so far partnered ​with eight​ ​carriers ​and ​10 NGO​ partners to send responders and is working with United Airlines and Spirit Airways to send cargo in the belly of their aircraft to St. Thomas.

It is a tremendous effort by the people in aviation.

Karen Walker

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