Air cargo taking leadership amidst crises

Air cargo taking leadership amidst crises

Logistics is of the utmost importance during the occurrence of a disaster. Lionel Alva assesses the role that aviation plays and the nature of supply chain collaboration required during instances of a disaster.

Nature is often unpredictable and disasters, natural or otherwise, serve as a reminder to humanity of how precarious our existence can truly be. For disasters are sudden and often strike out of the blue. They can quickly turn a seemingly quaint setting into one that is torn with strife and suffering.

It is in these instances that the mettle of governments and international organisations engaged in disaster relief are put to the test. For the responsiveness to a disaster greatly impacts lives and can mitigate its impact. The importance of the supply chain comes to the fore in such instances; logistics is central to disaster relief for several reasons. Being that it facilitates the effectiveness of disaster relief measures.

After Ecuador was struck with an earthquake measuring a magnitude of 7.8 on Richter scale, Deutsche Post DHL Group sent a Disaster Response Team (DRT) to Manta in Ecuador. With immediate effect, the DHL DRT volunteers provided pro bono logistics support at Ecuador’s Eloy Alfaro International Airport in Manta. They co-ordinated incoming international aid preparing it for onward transportation to areas affected by the quake.

Undoubtedly, it is crucial to the effectiveness and speed of response for major humanitarian programmes, such as health, food, shelter, water and sanitation. It can be one of the most expensive parts of a relief effort. According to estimates, for every pound that is spent, roughly 80 pence is spent on logistics. Since collaborative efforts require commensurate planning and an allocation of time and resources and rapid response times is at the heart of effective disaster management. At the government level, The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) utilises a variety of means to move cargo to target areas during a response to deliver the best results and value for taxpayers’ money. Where possible, DFID will procure relief items locally and utilise stocks that have been preposition in high risk countries via DFID’s disaster preparedness programmes.

Due to the urgency in which relief items are often required the primary means of moving cargo is by air. DFID also played a role in the Ecuador earthquake where UK engineers and a humanitarian advisor have arrived in Ecuador to help the country recover and rebuild. To ensure a quick response, air cargo is the first means of response for disaster relief.

In this regard, Airlink, a rapid-response humanitarian relief organisation that links airlines with pre-qualified nonprofit organisations, and its airline partners have transported over 3,700 passengers and more than 2,500,000 pounds of cargo in support of a broad range of humanitarian initiatives. Airlink estimates the value of these movements at more than $5,000,000.

Commenting on Airlink’s role, Barry Humphreys, former director of Virgin Atlantic, Airlink Advisory Council member, highlights the role of Airlink, in a press statement, “Whenever humanitarian disasters take place obviously aid agencies want to react as quickly as possible. The NGOs need to get the medical supplies. Food to the source of the disaster at an expeditious pace. Airlink brings order to all that chaos and is a force for good in the aviation industry.”

Recently Airlink in partnership with American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) and nonprofit relief group LIFT Non-Profit Logistics played a pivotal role in co-ordinating aid to Quito.

As air transport is usually the most viable mode of transportation for the rapid transportation of relief supplies. Being that, in natural disasters, roads, rail tracks and even ports are usually rendered unusable for logistics operations.

For instance, United Airlines is teaming up with leading disaster relief organisations to provide aid to those impacted by the recent earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador, and the flooding in Houston where more than 15 inches of rain fell just northeast of the region in a span of 12 hours, just a few days after more than 20 inches fell in two days northwest of the city; the region’s second 100 year rainstorm in less than a week. United provided up to three million bonus miles – one million to each of the affected regions – to MileagePlus members who donate to the organisation.

American Airlines Cargo too donated transportation to GlobalMedic, allowing the charity to send 560 Family Emergency Kits (FEK) to Quito from New York (JFK). The specialist kits contain household water purification units which can provide clean drinking water to a family for up to a year, as well as essential hygiene items such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Linda Dreffein, managing director of Cargo Sales for American Airlines eastern region, said in a press statement, “These kits will protect almost 3,000 individuals’ health, prevent the spread of illness and disease and provide a sense of normality as these families attempt to rebuild their lives. We are proud to have played a part in the safe and speedy arrival of these kits to the heart of the quake zone.”

Tleli Makhetha, general manager, SAA Cargo, describes how South African Airways espouses a proactive approach towards disaster relief, “South African Airways is a caring organisation. Where required we always work hand in hand with humanitarian organisations whenever disaster strikes. We do this by offering assistance through transportation of equipment, non-perishable food, water, and medical supplies to countries or people who are affected by disaster. This is applicable to routes directly serviced by SAA.”

Steve Smith, executive director of Airlink, adds in a press statement, “The goal is to engage with more airlines when disaster strikes.”

Since, conventional means of transportation may often not be accessible, there is a need for logistics providers and others engaged in the supply chain to contemplate out of the box solutions. There is a significant emphasis on developing agility in logistics or formulating processes that help respond rapidly to unpredictable events. It is therefore not surprising to learn that a keen assessment of the role and activities of various organisations involved in disaster relief is of the utmost importance.

Perhaps humanitarian relief agencies can learn a lot from commercial supply chain management and even military logistics. However, best practice measures being adopted aren’t nearly enough. Effective disaster management requires a great degree of skill and professionalism in all aspects of logistics and the intricacies of effective disaster management. Many organisations would benefit from high levels of professionalism and skills required for disaster management.

For instance, The United Nations frontline agency to fight global hunger, WFP utilises a variety of ways. In emergencies, WFP is on the frontline, delivering food to save the lives of victims of war, civil conflict and natural disasters. After the cause of an emergency has passed, WFP uses food to help communities rebuild their shattered lives. Especially, the recent outbreak of Ebola and other natural disasters places emphasis on infrastructure in the African context.

Consequentially, in instances where there are no roads or bridges, WFP builds them. Where there’s no landing space for aircraft, it arranges an airdrop. Describing the efforts and collaboration required in an air cargo supply chain, a spokesperson for Safair Operations, says, “Safair is an Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance & Insurance or full charter service provider, with a global footprint. Should a disaster occur NGOs will contact Safair and subject to availability we could provide the aircraft. One of our Lockheed Hercules type aircraft is currently airdropping Humanitarian Aid within areas of Republic of South Sudan on behalf of an NGO. One of our Hercules contracted to the United Nations was sent to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 to assist with the logistical operation and one of our B737-400 Combi aircraft was utilised to transport rescue personnel and equipment from South Africa to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.”

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