It is no surprise to the aviation community that general and business aviation show up to help in disasters even before they are asked. Operators and pilots know they bring a unique set of skills and resources that can help, whether ferrying in much needed relief supplies or ferrying out evacuees. But the haphazard nature of such help is not part of global emergency management preparations. They should be.
Often those in charge of managing disasters don’t know what to do with these air assets foregoing time sensitive solutions in emergencies.
During the Covid pandemic, general aviation rose to the occasion once again, connecting remote communities in Alaska, Montana and Michigan and delivering life-saving vaccines.
The story was recounted as part of a webinar arranged by Tecnam and included both NATA and GAMA to explain how governments should plan in advance to use general and business aviation during emergencies. There is now a move afoot to develop a general/business aviation global emergency response infrastructure that could provide governments with turn-key operations to get to those in need whether by famine, disease or natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.
Tecnam, which used its P2012, kitted with a newly develop refrigeration system, to deliver vaccines prompted the webinar aired in April.
Tecnam Managing Director Giovanni Pascale Langer pointed out only general aviation can truly meet the needs of rapid distribution in underserved markets, if it can overcome the many hurdles in its way. Those hurdles include lack of awareness in how GA can help and advanced planning to overcome the silos represented by regulatory and health authorities who don't know who to tap into aviation networks.
“In North America, general aviation is well organized but not so in Europe,” said Tecnam’s Walter Da Costa. “For Tecnam, we continue to work on creating the platform for the industry to work together.”
National Air Transportation Association Senior Vice President Ryan Waguespack agreed leveraging the networks of GA airports and general aviation itself provides the roadmap for what can be developed.
Webinar Points the Way
Remarks were part of a webinar organized by Tecnam which included the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and NATA discussing what needs to be done to make aviation a genuine part of disaster relief.
As an example of the urgent need, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) Disaster Response and International Development Expert Daniel Juzi said without general aviation it will take two to three years before Covid vaccinations are complete in many developing regions in the world where it operates. That gives the virus time to mutate and re-infect those areas already vaccinated.
Idaho-based MAF, which serves 3,000 airstrips with 65,000 to 85,000 flights and 180,000 passengers worldwide every year, partners with health organizations who deliver medical services. Juzi indicated local governments and health authorities were not geared toward using aviation in their plans while the military is the distribution default in other countries.
“A challenge we have seen and already know is there are considerable hurdles,” he explained. “Vaccine distribution is very high profile and sometimes the military wants to do it. In addition, health authorities are very much directing efforts in some areas but not others. It is also high cost in many remote areas and using aviation could bring the cost down.”
Tecnam’s Langer said the difficulties of vaccine transport and the unique cold-chain requirements prompted the creation of its P2012 TravelCare.
“Since the pandemic hit us, we have seen that everyone was playing [their] role,” said Langer. “Today, we want to say out loud that general aviation is here to do the same. We have the power to bring advantages and help where nobody else can.”
Even North America Must Organize to Tap Aviation
Both GAMA and NATA pointed out leveraging aviation is an uphill battle even in North America.
Waguespack pointed to three states leveraging general aviation to not only distribute vaccines but, in some cases, turn airports into vaccination sites. While Michigan and Alaska have long turned to aviation to meet their transportation needs, the role in Montana was an eye opener, he explained.
“The pandemic is a golden opportunity for general aviation to step up,” said Waguespack. “In Montana, a veterans affairs group worked with companies using Learjets to not only distribute vaccines but carry nurses to administer them. Let’s say you go into a community and you have 500 doses and only 400 show up. One of the challenges that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is facing when we were in discussions with them is that those remaining doses couldn’t be returned to the hub, so they have to be thrown out. General aviation can ensure those doses are used by moving quickly to another area for vaccination.”
In addition to government health and regulatory authorities, the maze of approvals for including aviation is often stymied by bureaucracy, according to GAMA’s Vice President of European Affairs Kyle Martin, who reported GA supported Doctors Without Borders.
“GAMA wrote to the European Commission and all the EU member states in early December effectively offering our services to help distribute vaccines,” he said. “Their reply was quite clear that, whilst the commission procured the vaccines for all the EU member states, they were not in charge of distribution. Distribution was, therefore, left to each individual member state or, in some cases, down to different regions of that member state. These authorities don’t think about general aviation as a useful asset in the toolbox even though it gives massive flexibility for these missions and can access remote locations on islands, jungles and mountain regions.”
Overcoming Hurdles with Turn-Key Solutions
That problem can only be overcome by advanced emergency planning in which all levels of aviation are included in initial distribution planning to complement commercial and charter services. To make that happen, said a panelist, aviation must build a coalition and develop the systems and resources necessary to convince governments that it has a turn-key solution for using aviation in disasters. But all stakeholders need to be at the table, including commercial airlines to assure efficient use of all assets aviation has to offer.
It is all about developing the networks that can spring into action and tying them in with national health services and regulatory authorities, suggested Juzi.
“You have to have the regulators on board,” he said. “Being willing and able is one thing but how can we do this legally and be compliant? We can if we think about ahead of time.”
Aviation, whether commercial, cargo, general or business aviation, has always responded to disasters before being asked delivering water, medical supplies and disaster relief to stricken areas. However, without a formalized plan at the governmental level, these precious resources often go to waste, prolonging the suffering of affected populations.
For instance, a global luxury helicopter company responded to the twin hurricanes of Irma and Maria in 2017 by offering helicopter service in the Caribbean to both bring in relief supplies and ferry out evacuees. Governments had no idea what to do with such assets and did not take advantage of the offer which only sought to cover operating costs. Helicopters are not the only assets, insists Martin.
“Because a lack of awareness of the advantages of using GA in crises," Martin added, "most attention is concentrated on a few transportation methods like helicopters so there is plenty of untapped opportunity for leveraging the industry during crises and disasters. GA really offers a significant advantage in terms of flexibility. Shorter field lengths, steeper approaches, smaller shipment size, lower cost all to benefit local governments in delivering services.”
NATA and RACCA are continuing discussions to create a coalition of like-minded aviation organizations to organize and develop the resources to leveraging aviation resources to aid in health- and natural-disaster related relief efforts now and in the future.Tecnam Aircraft Hosts Webinar with Industry Experts to Explore the Role of General Aviation in COVID Vaccine Distribution (prweb.com)