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Mission critical

Hurricanes ravaged parts of the Caribbean last year and urgent freight charters were crucial in delivering relief aid. Keith Mwanalushi looks at the logistics behind the operations

Transport and logistics are a strategic component of emergency response, ranging from emergency logistics preparedness, through the assessment of needs to the delivery of aid. Transport and logistics must be carefully integrated in the design of each operation and tailored to the specific needs. In a disaster context, it is essential to ensure efficient and effective delivery, so that assistance reaches the people affected by the emergency as rapidly as possible.


Dealing with these issues is complex. Air freight charters are often the only way to get access to remote places and reach people in need. These flights primarily enable life saving supplies to reach cut-off populations and make it possible for aid workers to access locations that are difficult to reach.


The official Caribbean hurricane season runs from 1 June through to 30 November. In 2017, the hurricane season hit the Caribbean particularly hard leaving devastation in its wake. Hurricane Irma which formed in August 2017 and dissipated in mid-September was extremely powerful and catastrophic.


Lynden Air Cargo, an American cargo airline based in Anchorage, Alaska got the call on 8 September to mobilise relief flights for Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria. "We began flights into the Caribbean on 17 September once there was a clear identification of needs," explained Rick Zerkel, Lynden Air Cargo President.


He said logistics were challenging considering there was very limited information on which airports were open with uncontaminated fuel supplies. "Some of the islands completely lost power. Hotel accommodation was also hard to find in some of these locations because they were still being used as shelters for families who could not go back to their homes or sustained damage during the storms.


“We also had to pause flying when Hurricanes Maria and Juan hit the Caribbean a second and third time – on occasion flying around the storms to get to any locations we could,” Zerkel recalled.


Lynden Air Cargo operated the flights under contract with Diplomat Freight Services (DFS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the US, the Red Cross and other supporting agencies and governments to uplift food, water, trucks, fuel and other disaster response supplies.


UK-based Air Partner, the global aviation services group, has also carried out a number of urgent freight charters across the Caribbean during last year’s crisis to support the relief effort in the wake of Irma and Maria. The flights were operated on behalf of governments, NGOs, charities and commercial entities to several islands in the region, including Puerto Rico, Cuba and Guadeloupe.


“The first hours and days following a natural disaster are the most critical,” Mike Hill, Director of Freight at Air Partner tells Airline Cargo Management. “As soon as an urgent airlift is required, we hit the ground running, researching airport serviceability and infrastructure in the immediate vicinity, as well as re-checking permit lead times, slot requirements and night curfews, amongst other things.”


Hill stresses that getting access to this information requires a picture of the situation on the ground as quickly as possible. “We gain this via insight from our own staff as well as contacts in local embassies and NGOs. From the moment a request comes in, we provide a round-the-clock assistance for as long as the project lasts.” >>


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